Procedural History: Plaintiff, Elian Gonzalez, a six year old minor, through his “next of friend”, Lazaro Gonzalez, filed an asylum application with the INS (Immigration & Naturalization Service), which was denied. The plaintiff’s then filed a claim in the federal district court which stated the Plaintiff’s due process rights were violated and the INS had overstepped their power in interpreting the statute, 8 U.S.C.A. § 1158. The Court determined the Plaintiff’s rights had not been violated nor had the INS misused their power and the ruling of the INS was valid. Plaintiff then filed appeal to the Federal Appellate Court.
Facts: Elian Gonzalez, an alien minor child, age six years of age, was brought to America from Cuba by his mother, Elizabeth Gonzalez, on November 22, 1999. During the trip from Cuba, the mother died at sea and the young boy was rescued and taken to a hospital in Miami, Florida. The boy was subsequently released to the custody of his great Uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez. While in Cuba, Elian Gonzalez lived part time with both his parents, who divorced three years earlier. Elian spent a great deal of time with his father, Juan Gonzalez, who remained living in Cuba.
Elian was taken to the United States by Elizabeth Gonzalez without the consent or permission from Juan Gonzalez. A short time after Elian was released to the care of his uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez; a petition for asylum was filled out by the uncle and submitted to the INS (Immigration & Naturalization Service).
The applications claimed that Plaintiff had a well-founded fear of persecution because many members of Plaintiff's family had been persecuted by the Castro government in Cuba. In particular, the applications alleged that, if the boy were returned to Cuba, he would be used as a propaganda tool for the Castro government and would be subjected to involuntary indoctrination in the tenets of communism.
Issue: Whether a minor child can file for asylum without the consent of a parent or legal guardian?
Rule: 8 U.S.C.A. § 1158 (West 2012) states any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien's status, may apply for asylum in accordance with this section or, where applicable, section 1225(b) of this title.
Analysis: The main issues before the Court were two-fold. First, could a six year old child apply for asylum without a parent or legal guardian and secondly, did the INS overstep their authority in denying the application for asylum. Statute 8 USC § 1158 states that “any” alien could apply for asylum, however, the INS rejected that a six year old child had the mental capacity to make that decision for himself.
The INS interviewed both the Uncle Lazaro Gonzalez and the father Juan Gonzalez and determined that the father was the legal guardian, therefore had the right to speak for Elian Gonzalez. Elian’s reasons for seeking asylum were “fear of persecution”. According to the uncle, if Elian, were returned to Cuba, he would be used as a “propaganda” tool and would face fear and intimidation. Father, Juan Gonzalez, rejected that argument and suggested Elian was a loved and well-adjusted boy who had a loving relationship with his father and extended family in Cuba.
The INS subsequently denied the application for asylum since in applying, Elian did not have the expressed consent of his father, and that considering his tender years, and he was not capable of making this decision of application on his own.
The Commissioner concluded that a six-year-old child lacked the capacity to file personally for asylum against the wishes of their parents; determining that Plaintiff could not file his own asylum applications. According to the Commissioner, the Plaintiff needed an adult representative to file for asylum on his behalf. The Commissioner, citing the custom that parents generally speak for their children, and finding that no circumstance in this case warranted a departure from that practice. Therefore, Juan Gonzalez was to decide whether Elian Gonzalez could apply for asylum as per 8 USC § 1158.
Through Lazaro Gonzalez, a petition was filed in Federal District Court indicating the INS violated 8 USC § 1158 and did not properly execute the instructions therein. Further, stating that the term “any alien” should apply to Elian Gonzalez, despite his age. The claim also stated that Elian’s due process rights were violated as his application was rejected and he was denied an asylum hearing.
The court indicated aliens seeking admission to the United States have no constitutional rights with regard to their applications, Jean v. Nelson, 727 F.2d 957, 968 (11th Cir.1984). Additionally, the Court stated that Elian Gonzalez had been adequately represented by competent attorneys as well as a “next of fiend”, therefore denying the due process claims. The second issue addressed by the court was the issue of the INS’s interpretation and absolute execution of 8 USC § 1158.
The Plaintiff (Elian Gonzalez) contended that the statute indicates “any alien”, which should be interpreted literally, the INS responds that section 1158 is silent about the validity of asylum applications filed on behalf of a six-year-old child, by the child himself and a non-parental relative, against the wishes of the child's parent. The INS argues that since the section is vague, the interpretation is solely up to the discretion of the INS.
The Court agreed with the position of the INS, and stated, “we accept that the rejection by the INS of Plaintiff's applications as invalid did not violate section 1158. The Court largely based their decision on Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 104 S.Ct. 2778, 2781, 81 L.Ed.2d 694 (1984), which outlined the role of Congress and the delegation of powers bestowed upon a government agency. In Chevron, the Supreme Court explained: “First, always, is the question whether Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue.
If the intent of Congress is clear, that is the end of the matter; for the court, as well as the agency, must give effect to the unambiguously expressed intent of Congress.” Which simply means the court will acquiesce in deference to the appointed agency for interpretation. The court further stated that section 1158 is neither vague nor ambiguous because the statute state “any alien”, “may” apply for asylum, the keywords being “any” and “may”. Although the statement may be broad, it is not ambiguous. Therefore court determined the INS properly interpreted and executed their power in making the decision to deny the asylum application for Elian Gonzalez.
Conclusion: Court Affirmed