WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama is ending a longstanding immigration
policy that allows any Cuban who makes it to U.S. soil to stay and become
a legal resident, a senior administration official said Thursday.
The repeal of the "wet foot, dry foot" policy is effective immediately,
according the official. The decision follows months of negotiations focused
in part on getting Cuba to agree to take back people who had arrived in the U.S.
The U.S. and Cuba planned to issue a joint statement late Thursday. The
official insisted on anonymity in order to detail the change ahead of
The official said the Cubans gave no assurances about treatment of those
sent back to the country, but said political asylum remains an option
for those concerned about persecution if they return.
President-elect Donald Trump has taken a tougher line on U.S. relations
with Cuba and could undo the change once he takes office.
The "wet foot, dry foot" policy was put in place in 1995 by President
Bill Clinton as a revision of a more liberal immigration policy. Until
then, Cubans caught at sea trying to make their way to the United States
were allowed into the country and were able to become legal residents
after a year. The U.S. was reluctant to send people back to the communist
island then run by Fidel Castro, and the Cuban government also generally
refused to accept repatriated citizens.
The Cuban government has in the past complained bitterly about the special
immigration privileges, saying they encourage Cubans to risk dangerous
escape trips and drain the country of professionals. But it has also served
as a release valve for the single-party state, allowing the most dissatisfied
Cubans to seek better lives outside and become sources of financial support
for relatives on the island.
The changes would be the latest step by Obama to normalize relations with Cuba
Relations between the U.S. and Cuba were stuck in a Cold War freeze for
decades, but Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro established full diplomatic
ties and opened embassies in their capitals in 2015. Obama visited Havana
U.S. and Cuban officials were meeting Thursday in Washington to coordinate
efforts to fight human trafficking. A decades-old U.S. economic embargo,
though, remains in place as does the Cuban Adjustment Act which lets Cubans
become permanent residents a year after legally arriving in the U.S.
The official said that in recent years, most people fleeing the island
have done so for economic reasons or to take advantage of the benefits
they know they can receive if they make it to the U.S.
The official also cited an uptick in Cuban migration, particularly across
the U.S.-Mexico border -- an increase the official said reflected an expectation
among Cubans that the Obama administration would soon move to end their
special immigration status.
Since October 2012, more than 118,000 Cubans have presented themselves
at ports of entry along the border, according to statistics published
by the Homeland Security Department. During the 2016 budget year, which
ended in September, a five-year high of more than 41,500 people came through
the southern border. An additional 7,000 people arrived between October
The influx has created burdens on other countries in the region that must
contend with Cubans who have yet to reach the U.S. border, the official said.
The Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which was started by President
George W. Bush in 2006, is also being rescinded. The measure allowed Cuban
doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to seek parole in the
U.S. while on assignments abroad.
People already in the pipeline under both "wet foot, dry foot"
and the medical parole program will be able to continue the process toward
getting legal status.
The preferential treatment for Cubans reflected the political power of
Cuban-Americans, especially in Florida, a critical state in presidential
elections. That has been shifting in recent years. Older Cubans, particularly
those who fled Castro's regime, tend to reject Obama's diplomatic
overtures to Cuba. Younger Cuban-American voters have proven less likely
than their parents and grandparents to define their politics by U.S.-Cuba
Exit polls show President Barack Obama managed roughly a split in the Florida
Cuban vote in 2012, and Trump in November won the same group by a much
narrower margin than many previous Republican nominees.
REVILLA LAW FIRM, P.A.
Miami immigration lawyers and deportation defense firm
The Miami immigration attorneys at Revilla Law Firm, P.A., are available
to assist you with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the
announcement that President Obama is ending the Wet Foot, Dry Foot policy
as it relates to Cuban immigrants.
If you are a Cuban immigrant with an Order of Removal or are in Removal
Proceedings, please contact us to discuss your immigration status.
Call us at (305) 858-2323 or toll free (877) 854-2323 to schedule a consultation
with Antonio G. Revilla III, a Former U.S. Immigration Prosecutor and
Miami immigration lawyer with over 25 years of legal experience.
We offer a free in-office immigration consultation in our Miami office.
We also offer telephone consultations for a nominal fee.
We can represent you anywhere in the United States on any immigration matter.