Just one week before his departure from office, Barack Obama made the startling decision to instruct the Department of Homeland Security to dissolve what is known as the “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy toward Cuban nationals.
The controversial policy first emerged in 1996 under the Clinton administration and stemmed from the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, which Congress passed in response to highly strained relations with Cuba during the Cold War.
Here’s a quick history lesson for those unfamiliar with either policy:
- The Cuban Adjustment Act was created under the Johnson administration which gave preferential treatment toward Cubans fleeing their homeland following the Cuban Revolution of 1959.
- The law essentially fast-tracked Cuban nationals living in the United States to receive permanent residency after only one year of arriving here.
- Twenty years later, the policy was amended to exclude Cubans apprehended by the Coast Guard while attempting to reach the U.S. by sea. If intercepted, these Cubans were send home or to another country.
- However, if Cubans successfully set foot on U.S. soil, they were again protected under the Cuban Adjustment Act. Hence the new “wet foot, dry foot” policy distinction.
According to Obama’s official statement released by whitehouse.gov on January 12, the U.S. has once again evolved its attitude toward Cuban migrants in an attempt to further “normalize relations” with Cuba. Now, Cubans that enter the U.S. illegally either by sea or by land will be treated like any other foreign migrants and turned away.
In reaction, the Cuban government has consented to allow deported Cuban migrants to return back safely to the country.
The decision to repeal the “wet foot, dry foot” policy has been met with mixed reviews within both the international community and Congress itself. In fact, as Trump settles into the role of president, he could even squash the entire deal, rendering it altogether moot.