Obama Eliminates Wet Foot-Dry Foot Policy For Cuban Immigrants

Thousands of Cubans have entered the United States this year along the Mexican border. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, 12 January 2017 –The Obama administration today put an end to the “wet foot/dry foot” policy, which allowed Cubans to obtain permanent residence one year after arriving in the United States, even if they arrive illegally, as long as they manage to touch land in the country.

According to an official of the Obama administration, the measure, which will take effect immediately, puts an end to a policy adopted in 1995, during the so-called “Rafter Crisis,” which allows Cubans who touch American soil (“dry foot”) to be admitted to the United States, while those who are intercepted at sea (“wet foot”) are returned to Cuba.

The end of this policy has been an longstanding demand of the Cuban government in order to advance the politics of normalization in bilateral relations between the former enemies, which began in December of 2014.

US residence permits awarded to Cubans (2010-2015) Blue: Number of permits. Black: Number of arrivals by land. (Note: Cubans also arrive with pre-arranged visas by air)

This policy is an amendment to the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, which gives authority to the US Attorney General to allow Cubans who have entered the country, both legally and illegally, to obtain permanent residence one year after their arrival.

Although only Congress can repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act itself, the wording of the legislation gives the Attorney General great flexibility in implementing it, so it is not yet clear how the Obama administration intends to manage the situation.

According to the Associated Press, the Cuban Professional Medical Parole program is also ended; that program welcomed Cuban physicians who managed to escape the island’s government, and was especially targeted to medical professionals working on “international missions” outside of Cuba.

The change in this policy comes just one week before Obama relinquishes power on 20 January to President-elect Donald Trump, who has threatened to end Obama’s reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the island, unless the Cuban government signs “a better deal” with him.

Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on 17 December 2014 a historic thaw to end a half-century of enmity and hostilities.

That reestablishment of relations was formalized with the reopening of embassies in Washington and Havana on 20 July 2015, and was furthered with Obama’s visit to the island in March of last year, when he became the first US president in office to visit Cuba in 88 years.