WASHINGTON -- Children in the foster care system face enough challenges without adding politics and ideology to the mix, never mind the C-word.
"Elian II," the sequel we hoped never to see, is what fathers' groups are calling a Miami case that once again highlights our confusion about paternal rights in child custody battles.
This time, the dispute revolves around a 5-year-old Cuban girl, her biological father in Cuba, her mentally unstable mother in the U.S., a passel of relatives, therapists, guardians ad litem, activist attorneys and, finally, a wealthy, influential Cuban-American foster family.
Elian and "E," as we'll call the girl, have similar stories. In Elian's case, the father wanted his boy returned to Cuba after the child's mother drowned en route to the U.S., but family members in the U.S. wanted him to grow up here. Few can have forgotten how then-Attorney General Janet Reno sent armed troops to remove Elian from his Miami home and return him to Cuba.
In E's case, the facts are a little muddier, but the principle is the same: Does the biological father, assuming he is fit, have a right to his own child? The answer should seem obvious: Not yes, but hell yes.
But what's obvious isn't always so. E is another tragic case in point.
There isn't enough space here to describe the many complications -- and questionable behavior -- in this sordid saga. In her recent ruling, for instance, Circuit Judge Jeri B. Cohen criticized "unprofessional conduct by certain members of the defense team and a general hostile environment in the courtroom."
Briefly, E was 2 when she came legally to the U.S. along with her mother, Elena Perez, a half-brother and a "stepfather," who agreed to marry Perez so that he could make the trip, according to Cohen's ruling. Perez had won a Cuban visa lottery that allows the winner, a spouse and minor children to emigrate to the U.S. under special parole authority.
The stepfather dumped Perez and the children immediately upon arrival, whereupon Perez began to unravel. When she attempted suicide in 2005, she lost custody of her kids to the state.
Both E and her half-brother were placed in temporary custody with a well-known Miami couple, Joe Cubas and his wife Maria. Cubas is a wealthy sports agent, both controversial and revered by many in the Cuban community for helping Cuban athletes defect and assume careers in American baseball leagues. Cubas also has worked with a Miami orphanage for abused children stuck in long-term foster care.
Among those he helped was E's half-brother, whom the Cubases have adopted.