As of January 12, 2017, Cubans who arrive in the United States without visas will no longer be given the chance to stay and become legal permanent residents of the country.
The special immigration policy allowed Cuban migrants who reach the U.S. soil to become legal permanent residents after a year. In one of his final motions as President, Barack Obama ended the 20-year-old policy stating:
"By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries. [...]
With this change we will continue to welcome Cubans as we welcome immigrants from other nations, consistent with our laws."
The repeal of the infamous "wet feet, dry feet" policy goes into effect immediately and has been both celebrated and criticized by Cubans everywhere.
"Wet feet, dry feet" policy was adopted by former U.S. President Bill Clinton in mid-1990s ending the "open door" policy. Its name derives from the fact that Cuban refugees who were intercepted at sea were returned to Cuba, but those who reached American land were allowed to stay.
The migrants were given temporary "parole" status until after a year they qualified for a green card which grants permanent residency. Now, Cubans who enter U.S. without a visa will be "subject to removal," just like any other illegal immigrant.
After Obama's push to ease diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S., immigration levels have been visibly increasing – a worrying trend from Cuba's perspective not only for losing the majority of its young population to another country, but also for the dangerous conditions many of these people suffer on the way to U.S. shore.
As The Washington Post reports, the change in policy has been supported by the Cuban government calling it "an important step in the advance of bilateral relations" that will guarantee "regular, safe and orderly migration."
Havana also agreed to start accepting the repatriated Cubans turned away or deported from the States. However, not everyone's convinced by the positive effects of this repeal.
Fox News interviewed Ramon Saul Sanchez, a Cuban activist who's been helping migrants to settle in South Florida upon their arrival. Sanchez believes the change will "send waves of panic" to Cuba and prevent Cubans from escaping their country's oppressive regime."
if you're mad about ending wet foot/dry foot but fine with banning refugees who actually go through a vetting process, you might be confused— Almaqah (@_Almaqah) January 13, 2017
All in all, it doesn't seem like Obama's new policy will affect those leaving Cuba for genuinely political reasons instead of "economic opportunity" as political asylum continues to be an option, Obama’s deputy national security adviser Benjamin Rhodes assured.
Many believe it will also bring a much-needed transformation of the government now that the so-called "escape valve" is closed and Cubans will have to search for ways to liberate themselves within the country.
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