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In 1939 Hitler was threatening to conquer Europe.; Many families, including many Jewish families, living in Europe at the time looked for refuge outside that continent. In May of that year an ocean liner named the “St. Louis” left Germany with a cargo of 907 Jews who were fleeing with only passports and the clothes on their backs. They sailed across the Atlantic to seek safe haven..
When they arrived in Cuba they were denied entry even though they threatened mass suicide. Every other Latin American country also denied them entry. They then turned to the United States. Our country ordered the U.S. Coast Guard to “keep the ‘St. Louis’ far from shore.” Their last chance was Canada, which also refused them entry. The ship then returned to Germany where all the passengers were condemned to the gas chambers.
In that same year an American woman, her British husband, and their 2-year-old child born in London, England set sail for America from France. During the trip across the Atlantic the child became ill. The father fearing that they would be denied entry into the United States kept the child’s illness a secret from everyone on the ship as well as from U.S. Immigration authorities. As a result the family entered the United States legally. The child was later diagnosed with tuberculosis of the lymph gland, which fortunately was successfully cured.
A week ago as the U.S. Senate was trying to adjourn, Senator Bob Smith, R-N.H., was on the Senate floor trying to get his fellow senators to focus on the Elian Gonzalez case. It didn’t matter that the media had been camped in Miami for months, every talk show was covering the saga of Elian, and almost everyone else in the country had an opinion as to what to do with the Cuban boy, the U.S. Senate wasn’t about to vote on Smith’s bill.
In the United States Senate it really takes 60 votes, not 51, to pass controversial legislation. When 60 votes cannot be achieved, Senate protocol can keep the bill from “coming to the floor” to be voted upon. Last week very few Senators were willing to vote on a bill that would grant Elian Gonzalez and his family permanent residency status, allowing a Florida custody court to decide where Elian should reside permanently. There are, of course, over 40 Democrats in the U.S. Senate, who have demonstrated their lack of backbone on controversial subjects. After all they chose to vote in favor of Bill Clinton in 1999 during his impeachment trial. Thus we will never know which ones of those senators, who often proclaim their support for oppressed people around the world, would have voted to keep Elian free in America or send him back to a country, whose residents are still desperately attempting to leave by any means they can to cross the 90 treacherous miles north to freedom.
As Senator Smith so eloquently said, “This should not be an immigration matter. Elian Gonzalez did not get on a yacht and cruise into Miami Harbor. He and two other people almost drowned while everybody else on the boat–10 or 12 other people — lost their lives. And his mother’s dying wish was to `please get my son to American soil.’ If Elian’s mother had lived, there would be no controversy; she and Elian would have remained in this country. Janet Reno would not have been required to get involved and exercise her discretion in this case.
Janet Reno’s discretion has been very poor when it comes to children. After all she is the one who proclaimed herself the final arbiter in the matter of allowing men, women, and children to be attacked and killed by the U.S. government at the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas seven years ago yesterday. She took full responsibility when she stated, “the buck stops here.”
Her manner of being in charge condoned the use of CS gas, which put small children at risk. Forty-eight Branch Davidian autopsies indicated possible lethal doses of cyanide gas, a byproduct of burning CS gas.
Her way of being in charge was to allow the FBI to demolish the complex killing children as well as adults with falling debris or trapping them inside with no escape routes available. Even the “New York Times” in an Oct. 12, 1993 editorial: “The Waco Whitewash,” stated, “the report is silent on the most glaring deficiency of the tragic episode: the lack of judgment at the top and the reasons for it.”
Janet Reno’s judgment has been rather poor throughout the seven years that she has served as Attorney General. As an Attorney General she has been more concerned with making decisions that are politically helpful to this Administration — especially to Bill Clinton, than enforcing U. S. law independent of politics. She has used her discretionary powers to make it more difficult, if not impossible, to determine whether Clinton and Gore have committed crimes, while now she is sentencing a six-year-old boy to life in a dictatorship. .
In 1986 we celebrated the100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, “one of the most universal symbols of political freedom,” according the
official government website on the statue. The inscription on the statue reads:
“Give me your tired, your poor…Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me…I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Yesterday, April 19, has much in common with the meaning of the Statue of Liberty. April 19, 1775, was the day of the “shot heard round the world” when colonial militiamen kept King George’s redcoats from seizing their firearms and ammunition. April 19, 1943, the first day of Passover that year, was the day the remaining Jews using illegal firearms rose against the Nazis and kept them at bay for 42 days: the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt. April 19,1993, was also the day Janet Reno signed the death warrant for 76 men, women, children, and two unborn children. April 19, 1996, too was the date of the tragedy of Oklahoma City, where 168 innocent men, women, and children were murdered. Let’s hope that April 19, 2000 is not the date when the golden door to freedom for Elian Gonzalez begins closing.
Janet Reno still has the discretion to allow Elian, whose mother died yearning to be free, to remain in the country that welcomed over 12 million immigrants in the early years of the twentieth century. Janet Reno should remember the 907 passengers of the “St. Louis” who “yearned to breathe free;” she should remember the Jews in that ghetto in Warsaw. I thank God that Janet Reno did not have discretionary authority over that family with the tubercular child who successfully immigrated some 59 years ago, because I was that child.