The Elian Gonzalez saga is about to take a less emotional turn as three federal appeals judges prepare to hear arguments over whether the six-year-old Cuban boy's case merits a political-asylum hearing.
Elian and his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, are not required to attend Thursday's proceedings at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals here - and it's unlikely they will. But three of the boy's Miami relatives - including cousin Marisleysis Gonzalez and great uncle Lazaro - plan to be in the courtroom, but won't be allowed to speak during the hearing.
"They feel that they need to be there," said Armando Gutierrez, a spokesman for the Miami relatives. "This is a very important point for the them. The government has not listened. Maybe this court will."
The Miami relatives appealed after a lower court threw out a request for political asylum signed by Elian and filed by Lazaro Gonzalez. Juan Miguel Gonzalez has said he wants to take his son home to Cuba, and the US government has backed his right to do so.
The government has agreed to give five of its allotted 20 minutes to Gregory Craig, the lawyer for Juan Miguel Gonzalez, to argue that the father should be able to represent Elian if an asylum hearing is granted.
The remaining fifteen minutes will be used by government lawyers arguing that the six-year-old is too young to apply for asylum without an adult acting in his best interest, and that that adult is his father, not his Miami relatives.
A US district judge in Miami had dismissed the asylum petition because of the boy's age, but the 11th Circuit Court maintains that any alien can apply for asylum.
While the hearing is expected to take only 40 minutes, a ruling could take several weeks.
The court has ordered that Elian remain in the US until the judges rule on his appeal. Since federal agents removed him from his great-uncle's Miami home on April 22, Elian has been staying with his father, stepmother and six-month-old half-brother at a secluded plantation in Maryland.
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