MIAMI -- Relatives of Elian Gonzalez are vowing to continue their battle to keep the 6-year-old in the United States despite a federal court decision that brings him one step closer to Cuba.
''They are confident they are doing the right thing. They will keep fighting for what his mom died for,'' Armando Gutierrez, spokesman for the boy's Miami relatives, said Friday after the 12-member 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta denied a request for a custody rehearing and emphatically said it would not look at the case again.
''Any further requests for stays or for injunctive relief should be directed to the Supreme Court,'' said the ruling, written by Circuit Judge J.L. Edmondson. He said the appeals court will not grant any further motions for a stay -- even putting the word ''not'' in boldface and large letters.
The court said its earlier stay requiring Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, to keep Elian in the United States will dissolve at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
In Washington, Gregory Craig, attorney for Juan Miguel Gonzalez, said he would meet with his client over the weekend to talk about his plans for the coming week.
''Juan Miguel is grateful that the 11th Circuit has denied the petition for the hearing and has lifted all stays and all injunctions as of Wednesday afternoon of next week,'' Craig said.
Attorney General Janet Reno said: ''Now that the court has conclusively upheld our decision, I am hopeful that this father and son will soon be able to move on with their lives together.''
A three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based court had ruled against the relatives earlier this month. The decision to grant a rehearing before the full court had to be approved by seven of the 12 judges; none of the 12 even asked for a vote on the question.
Gutierrez said the relatives will file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday. Although the Supreme Court hears about 1 percent of the appeals it received, he said the family is not daunted by the long odds.
''The family is very hopeful God will save Elian,'' the spokesman said.
Four of the nine Supreme Court justices must agree to hear an appeal. A single justice can grant a stay, or can opt to refer the question of a stay to the full court. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is the justice assigned to hear emergency matters from the 11th circuit.
Elian was rescued off the Florida coast on Thanksgiving Day after his mother and 10 other people drowned when their boat sank en route from communist Cuba to the United States.
The Miami relatives argue that the three-judge panel was wrong to uphold an Immigration and Naturalization Service decision that Elian should return to Cuba with his father. They said INS decisions are not necessarily law and can be overturned by the courts.
But Bernard Perlmutter, a University of Miami law professor, said it is highly unlikely that the Supreme Court would overturn the appellate decision or even grant a hearing.
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