Just about a week before leaving office, U.S President Barack Obama’s administration has announced it will end the “wet foot, dry foot” policy toward Cubans who arrive in the United States without a visa.
The policy had allowed any Cubans who arrived in the U.S. to remain in the country and eventually become green-card holders, typically after a period of one year.
“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 U.S. law and enforcement priorities,” Obama said in a White House statement. “By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries. 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.”
Obama said the policy, which was put in place more than 20 years ago, was “designed for a different era.”
When enacted in 1995, the policy effectively meant that Cubans who managed to make it to shore in the United States would not be sent to Cuba; Cubans who were intercepted in the waters between the two nations would be sent home or sent to another country.
Those with “dry feet,” who got to shore, could stay in the country and would get expedited green-card status and, eventually, citizenship.
Now, Cubans who attempt to enter the country and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be “subject to removal,” Obama said.
“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,” the President said.
Obama also announced that the Department of Homeland Security was ending the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which had allowed Cuban medical personnel conscripted to work in a third country under the direction of the Cuban government to enter the United States.
“The United States and Cuba are working together to combat diseases that endanger the health and lives of our people,” Obama said. “By providing preferential treatment to Cuban medical personnel, the medical parole program contradicts those efforts, and risks harming the Cuban people. Cuban medical personnel will now be eligible to apply for asylum at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, consistent with the procedures for all foreign nationals.