WASHINGTON D.C., January 21, 2015 (AMG) —The recent resumption of formal diplomatic relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba after more than 50 years of hostility has given rise to fears in both Cuba and southern Florida that the current rules regarding Cuban immigration to the U.S. will soon be reformed. Specifically, many Cubans worry that the United States’ so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy — a 20 year old amendment to the U.S.’s 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act — will be discontinued.

The controversial policy allows illegal Cuban migrants who reach U.S. shores to stay in that country as refugees, and apply for green cards and permanent residence after one year. On the other hand, the policy sends back to Cuba any migrants that are apprehended while still at sea.

While the Castro regime has long held that the U.S. government’s policy with regard to Cuban immigration – specifically the “wet foot, dry foot” protocol – encourages Cubans to attempt unlawful and hazardous rafting trips to reach the U.S., the policy does enable relatively speedy immigration for refugees from Cuba to the U.S.

When compared to the long and arduous immigration process which most other migrants to the U.S. are compelled to weather, the pathway to permanent American residence for refugees that is provided by the risky “wet foot, dry foot” practice is alluring for many Cubans.

U.S. officials firmly deny that any policy changes regarding Cuban immigration to America are on the horizon. Immigration experts are similarly sceptical; they are quick to point out that even if President Obama wanted to undertake such reforms, any fundamental alterations in that area would need to be green-lit by the U.S. Congress -something that seems unlikely given America’s long-standing partisan paralysis. For all intents and purposes, the rumours regarding potential policy changes in the area of Cuba-U.S. immigration seem unfounded.

Even so, domestic opponents of President Obama’s Cuba pivot continue to stoke fears among Florida’s Cuban population that the President’s recent actions will in some way jeopardize both their own ability to remain in the U.S. and the ability of their relatives to one day reach them there. Foremost among these voices is the Cuban-American Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who has been a consistent and highly publicized critic of President Obama’s Cuban policy for years.

“I don’t know of any organized efforts to repeal it [the Cuban Adjustment Act], but I would venture to guess that there will be efforts to repeal it by some,” Rubio recently asserted to the press.

The senator’s claim paralleled a significant spike in attempts by Cubans to raft to America in the wake of last month’s ground-breaking diplomatic developments. Capt. Pat DeQuattro of the U.S. Coast Guard recently reported the apprehension 481 illegal Cuban migrants to the U.S. last month alone – a 117 percent increase in Cuban migration attempts from December 2013. With 96 similar apprehensions so far this month, the exodus shows little signs of subsiding.

Image credit: US Coast Guard

US officials deny changes to ‘wet foot, dry foot’ Cuban immigrant policy

Jake Bolton

Jake is a graduate of Drew University with a B.A. in Political Science. He focuses on U.S. foreign policy and labour issues, and resides in Egg Harbor, New Jersey.

PUBLISHED — January 21, 2015

Category: CARICOM & Foreign Policy