As we count down Eric Holder’s greatest hits, the first image that comes to the mind of many Americans isn’t that of Brian Terry, or of Black Panthers outside polling places, but of a screaming child staring down the barrel of a rifle.

On April 22, 2000, just before dawn, U.S federal agents executed a full-blown raid on the home of five year old Elian Gonzalez, seizing the child and setting in motion procedures to send Elian and his father back to Cuba.

I was only a freshman in high school when this happened, but I remember seeing news stories about what it meant to be a refugee from Cuba, and wondering why in the world the government would ignore everything that this kid had been through. Why were they taking him away from his family? Why was there so much yelling? Why were they pointing a gun at a kid who was younger than my baby cousin?

Why? This is Eric Holder’s legacy.

The Elian Gonzalez case predates Holder’s tenure as Attorney General, but even before his appointment to the DoJ, Holder displayed a stunning lack of accountability and a tone deaf attitude toward those who dared to question the decisions of the Department of Justice:

In the period before armed agents seized the child, the Justice Department had been leaking its intention to avoid any sort of armed intervention. It would all be done quietly, they suggested. When top Department officials were asked about it, they said nothing to change that impression. About two weeks before the raid, Tim Russert asked Holder, “You wouldn’t send a SWAT team in the dark of night to kidnap the child, in effect?” Holder answered, “No, we don’t expect anything like that to happen.” Then the Department did precisely that. The day after the seizure, Holder appeared again with Russert, who asked, “Why such a dramatic change in position?” “I’m not sure I’d call it a dramatic change,” Holder answered. “We waited ’til five in the morning, just before dawn.”

The dramatic nature of the DoJ’s raid aside, what’s important to remember about what happened in the Elian Gonzalez case is Holder’s failure to enforce immigration law, and to recognize Gonzalez’s status as a refugee, and instead choosing to focus on the parental rights of Elian Gonzalez’s father.

This shift in focus tore a family apart, and set events in motion that have led to Elian (now 20 years old) being used as a tool of the Castro regime:

Gonzalez said he blamed the US for the death of his mother, who drowned along with nine other people en route to Florida 14 years ago. “Just like her, many others have died attempting to go to the United States,” Gonzalez said. “But it’s the US government’s fault. Their unjust embargo provokes an internal and critical economic situation in Cuba.”

Gonzalez is in Ecuador for the World Festival of Youths and Students, which he’s been asked to speak at. “The main reason we’re here is because we want a revolutionary progressive movement that leads to socialism,” he says. And no, he’s not upset the US sent him back; he describes Cuban life as “magnificent,” and says being dragged from his relatives’ home at gunpoint left no mental scars.

The hostile relationship between the U.S. and Cuba has long been the cause of broken families, and when Holder ignored the law and allowed Elian to be taken back to Cuba, he allowed Castro to score a political point on behalf of a dangerous, oppressive regime.

This is the man who spent six years as Barack Obama’s confidant and #1 law enforcement officer. Holder has resigned, but nothing can change what happened to Elian and his family, and the events he set in motion by allowing the law (and the best interests of a small child) to be set aside.


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