Obama Makes One Last Cuba Move Before He’s out the Door
The Obama administration announced Thursday that it is scrapping the
so-called wet foot, dry foot policy granting residency to Cubans who
arrive in the United States without visas. The AP reports that the
change had been negotiated for months between the U.S. and Cuban
governments, and it will likely be the last of a number of significant
changes in Cuba policy made by Obama.
Cubans were given special preference in immigration under the 1966 Cuban
Adjustment Act. Under a 1995 revision, the policy became that Cubans
caught at sea on their way to the United States could be sent back, but
those who reached American soil would not be repatriated and could
receive permanent residence status after a year: wet foot, dry foot.
The policy has been controversial. It was decried as a racist double
standard at a time when the U.S. was forcibly returning Haitian
refugees. More recently, it’s been hard to reconcile the preferential
status for Cubans when thousands of unaccompanied minors fleeing
violence in Central America have been arriving at the southern U.S. border.
There’s been a major surge in Cuban immigration to the United States
since Obama announced a renewal of ties with the country in 2014 and
made travel between the two countries easier. Many Cubans now regularly
travel back and forth between the two countries, making the policy a
harder sell on human rights grounds. Even Marco Rubio, a leading critic
of Obama’s Cuba moves, has called the policy “hard to justify.” Other
Latin American countries have also complained to Washington about the
growing number of Cubans traveling through their countries, attempting
to reach the U.S.
It was the right time to change the policy, but given that so much of
U.S. immigration policy and Cuba policy may dramatically change after
this month, it’s hard to say what impact it will have.
Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international
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