As one of his final acts in office, our immigrant-loving president has decided to end the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, a rule established in 1995 that gave Cuban refugees the opportunity to pursue residency as long as they made it to shore.
A Pew Research study found that Cuban immigration to the US has ramped up in recent years following President Obama’s attempts to restore good relations with Cuba. “Last fiscal year, more than 54,000 Cubans arrived at US border points or via sea without visas,” reports the Miami Herald.
Immigration analysts insist that a change in policy was necessary in order to halt the rising tide of immigration.
“Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with US law and enforcement priorities,” said Obama Thursday, adding that the law was “designed for a different era.” The change will not affect Cubans already on America soil.
The war in Syria and resulting migration crisis has renewed critics’ claim that the “wet foot, dry foot” policy favors Cubans over refugees from other nations. Obama says that cancelling the controversial policy ensures we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we would treat migrants from other nations.
The US embargo on Cuba began in 1958, with diplomatic relations officially restored in July 2015. President Obama claims to have “put the Cuban-American community at the center of our policies” during his time in office, and his decision represents another step towards full reconciliation with the estranged island nation.
“The Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of Cuban nationals who have been ordered removed, just as it has been accepting the return of migrants interdicted at sea,” said Obama. In a joint communiqué, the island nation has agreed to take back more than 2,700 Cubans deemed “excludable” for various reasons including criminal behavior.
Obama has also decided to cancel the Cuban Medical Professional Parole program – a rule that encouraged Cuban medical professionals to defect to the US. “The United States and Cuba are working together to combat diseases that endanger the health and lives of our people,” said Obama. “By providing preferential treatment to Cuban medical personnel, the medical parole program contradicts those efforts, and risks harming the Cuban people.”
Critics of Obama’s decision argue that the US shouldn’t cancel these policies until the Cuban government shows improvement. Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado calls the decision a “going away present” to Castro.
“The Obama administration seeks to pursue engagement with the Castro regime at the cost of ignoring the present state of torture and oppression, and its systematic curtailment of freedom,” said Cuban American Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ). Cancelling the “wet foot, dry foot” policy serves only to “tighten the noose the Castro regime continues to have around the neck of its own people.”
Hours after Obama’s announcement, former Florida Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) tweeted, “Obama will continue to shower the enemies of freedom with gifts until 1/20/17.”