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U.S. Ends Cuba “Wet Foot/Dry Foot” Policy


After decades of preferential treatment, president Barack Obama put an end to the automatic American residency granted to Cubans who reach the United States. Known as the “wet foot/dry foot” policy it was instituted by president Bill Clinton in 1995 in reaction to the “balsero” phenomenon. It stated that if you were found in the waters outside the United States you could be sent back to Cuba, where you might be punished for leaving. But if you reach the United States, you are in. This was the last in a series of immigration laws that date back to the 1960’s that granted special status to Cuban immigrants by giving the political refugee status. My parents literally just waltzed into America in the 1960’s and had a clear path to citizenship, something no other people in the world are able to do.

When Obama and Castro began the thaw between the two countries in 2014, many would-be Cuban immigrants were afraid that the administration was going to end the policy. This is part of the reason that immigration from Cuba has increased over the last three years. It has caused a refugee crisis in Central America and Mexico as hundreds of thousands of Cubans try to reach the United States before the end of the policy. It seems that time has run out.

Unless, that is, president-elect Trump reverses this decision when he takes office on January 20. He has vowed to take a tougher stance on Cuba than Obama did and might reinstate “wet foot/dry foot” as a way of “sticking it” to the Castros. The again, given his desire to restrict immigration from Latin America it seems unlikely. Many Cubans in Miami will not be happy with this development as there are plenty of recent immigrants that hoped that their families might join them. Now that will be harder because Cubans will need to go through the same process as everyone else. It might be even harder if Trump shuts the door completely.

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