Yesterday President Barack Obama terminated a “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy enacted by former President Clinton in 1996. The Washington Post reports:
“It ends the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy, adopted by the Clinton administration in 1996 at a time when illegal seaborne migrants were flooding across the Florida Straits. That policy differentiated between those reaching U.S. soil — who were allowed to stay — and those intercepted at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard, who were returned to Cuba or sent to third countries.”
In his announcement President Obama stated:
“Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally . . . will be subject to removal,” treating them “the same way we treat migrants from other countries.”
In addition to the termination of the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy Reuters reported that:
“The Department of Homeland Security also ended a parole program that allowed entry for Cuban medical professionals. That program was unpopular with Havana because it prompted doctors to leave, sapping the country’s pool of trained health workers.”
This has been a major blow for Cubans who are trying to enter the United States via any means necessary to escape communism. Reuters interviewed Cubans Jose Enriquee Manreza and Gabriel Alejandro Marin who were attempting to enter the United States they reported:
“Imagine how I feel, after I spent six days and six nights running through rivers and jungles in the humidity,” said Manreza, at a migrant shelter in the southern Mexican city of Tapachula, where he heard the news, along with 30 other Cubans.
“There are people with children, pregnant women, elderly people,” said Gabriel Alejandro Marín, part of a group of 50 in Panama City. “We have all sold everything for this.”
Manreza said his wife, a nurse, was working in Venezuela as part of a Cuban oil-for-doctors program. Obama also rolled back a “medical parole” program dating back to 2006 that allowed Cuban doctors working in third countries to move to the United States simply by walking into a U.S. embassy.
“She cried when I called her,” Manreza said, without saying whether his wife had intended to defect under the program.
Ivan Diaz, 45, a health administrator said the decision had left him in shock.
“It’s taken the oxygen from me,” he said.
Diaz left Cuba three months ago with his wife. He said the dash for the United States had cost about $25,000 for him, his wife and Miami family members who sent money to support them.
“I’ve got $10 left in my pocket,” he said. “We are going to carry on. We don’t lose anything by going to the Laredo border. We must be able to do something. Otherwise, let them deport me back to Cuba.”
This move has shocked Cubans inside the country and has been a hit to those attempting to enter the country legally through US policies. The President and US officials claim this was part of the continued effort to “normalize relations with Cuba”. From one perspective President Obama made it part of his agenda to normalize relations with Cuba and this is a step in that direction. This change in policy puts every immigrant attempting to the enter the US on an equal playing field. From another perspective, Obama is appeasing Havana and seems to attempt to punch more holes in President Elect Trumps immigration policy. Cubans that have enjoyed special status will no long benefit putting them in the same “boat” as other immigrants attempting to enter the US. As a result, this could impact Trump’s favorable number with Cubans due to his immigration policies. On the other hand, it also appears that President Obama is using the plight of Cuban immigrants as a weapon against the incoming President, putting people’s lives in the middle of partisan politics. As of yet, Mr. Trump has not made any comments on the new policy or what will happen to the Cuban immigrants under his administration.