Obama Ends Special Asylum Rule for Cuban Migrants
Cuban migrants landing on American soil without visas will no longer be afforded special treatment over migrants from other countries, President Barack Obama announced on Thursday. In eliminating the 22-year-old “wet foot, dry foot” policy, Obama made what will likely be his final move in his quest to normalize relations with the Cuban government, which has wanted the U.S. to do away with the policy for years.
The “wet foot, dry foot” policy, a 1995 revision to the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, essentially allowed Cuban migrants who reached U.S. soil to stay, with or without a visa; the migrants could also apply for permanent residency. The policy favored Cuban migrants over those who fled other countries. Throughout the past few decades, tens of thousands of Cubans have taken advantage of the favorable treatment.
“By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries,” Obama said in a statement. “With this change we will continue to welcome Cubans as we welcome immigrants from other nations, consistent with our laws.” Obama said the change is effective immediately, and that 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.”
At the moment, the Cuban government does not permit migrants who have been away from the country for four years or more to return. Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said Cuban officials have already agreed to repeal that law, and will allow nearly 3,000 Cubans who fled to the U.S. as part of the Mariel boat-lift of 1980 to re-enter Cuba.
Not everybody was thrilled with Obama’s decision. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) said dropping the “wet foot, dry foot” policy will “tighten the noose the Castro regime continues to have around the neck of its own people.” Menendez, who is a also a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, added: “The fact is the recent ill-conceived changes in American policy towards Cuba have rewarded the regime with an economic lifeline while leaving every day Cubans less hopeful about their futures under a brutal totalitarian dictatorship.”