Friday, January 27, 2017

Obama repeals policy favoring Cuban refugees

(January 13) Obama repealed a long-standing U.S. policy that allows any Cuban who makes it to U.S. soil to be able to stay in the U.S. and become a legal resident, according to a senior U.S. administration official.

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The "wet foot, dry foot policy" has long been in force. It is described by Wikipedia as follows:
The wet foot, dry foot policy is the name given to a consequence of the 1995 revision of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 that essentially says that anyone who fled Cuba and entered the United States would be allowed to pursue residency a year later. After talks with the Cuban government, the Clinton administration came to an agreement with Cuba that it would stop admitting people intercepted in U.S. waters. Since then, in what has become known as the "Wet foot, Dry foot" policy, a Cuban caught on the waters between the two nations (with "wet feet") would summarily be sent home or to a third country. One who makes it to shore ("dry feet") gets a chance to remain in the United States, and later would qualify for expedited "legal permanent resident" status and eventually U.S. citizenship.
The anonymous senior administration official said that the repeal was effective immediately. The repeal follows months of negotiations that in part focused on Cuba agreeing to take back Cubans arriving in the U.S. While the official said that Cuba would give no assurances as to how it would treat returned Cubans, he noted that those concerned with persecution at home could still request asylum in the U.S.
Today, Obama made an official announcement saying:"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. 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."
The move a week before Obama leaves office is a continuation of Obama's attempt to normalize relations with Cuba after he made a historic visit to the island last year. He was the first U.S. president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years. The wet foot dry foot policy was meant in part to stem mass migration of Cubans to the U.S. but it still gave Cubans favorable special status compared to other immigrants to the U.S. James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a group working to end the travel and trade embargo on Cuba said: "This is a logical, responsible, and important step towards further normalizing relations with Cuba. The 'wet foot, dry foot' policy has been an enduring problem that decades of hostility and isolation failed to solve. This change, which has long had strong bipartisan support, would not have been possible without the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba." However, Senator, Bob Menendez a Democrat from New Jersey and himself a Cuban-American claimed:"Today's announcement will only tighten the noose the Castro regime continues to have around the neck of its own people." The Obama administration is also ending a 2006 policy that allowed Cuban medical personnel required to study or work in a third country to, in effect, defect to the U.S. Obama said the program contradicted US-Cuba efforts to fight diseases.
Donald Trump could attempt to change back to the old policy in order to keep the support of many older Cuban Americans who favor policies opposed to Cuba. Trump has criticized Obama's attempt to improve relations with Cuba. At the same time, Trump has supported tougher immigration policies. We will have to wait and see which of two contradictory policies he decides to follow. The "wet foot, dry foot" policy was actually put in place by Democratic president Bill Clinton in 1995.
While relations with Cuba have improved under Obama, a decades-old embargo still remains. The Cuban Adjustment Act also is still in force that allows Cubans to become permanent residents a year after they arrive legally in the United States. Since October 2012 more than 118,000 Cubans had presented themselves at ports of entry.
The preferential treatment for migrating Cubans was encouraged by anti-Castro Cubans who had migrated to the US and had become a potent political power. Younger Cuban-Americans appear less likely to identify their politics in terms of US policy toward Cuba. However, Trump won Cuban-American voters but by a much narrower margin than many other Republican presidential contenders had done. Obama's move may be another attempt to box Trump in by policies that conflict with those of Trump. Obama also recently expelled a number of Russian diplomats, and sanctioned five others. These moves may make it difficult for Trump to improve relationships with Russia as he claims to want.

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