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On Thursday, January 12, president Barack Obama had announced that he will be ending the longstanding “wet foot, dry foot” policy that allows Cubans who arrive on American soil without a visa to become permanent residents.
Obama wrote “By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries”. He went onto say “The United States, a land of immigrants, has been enriched by the contributions of Cuban-Americans for more than a century. Since I took office, we have put the Cuban-American community at the center of our policies. With this change we will continue to welcome Cubans as well welcome immigrants from other nations, consistent with our laws.”
The “wet foot, dry foot” policy was set into place by Bill Clinton in 1995. It was originally designed to consider immigrants from Cuba as refugees. The United States was reluctant to send Cubans back to the communist island that was then run by Fidel Castro. The Cuban government also generally refused to accept repatriated citizens. After the policy was introduced, the Cuban government criticized the policy saying it encouraged Cubans to risk escaping the country through the dangerous crossing from Cuba to Florida.
Since then, the relations between the United States and Cuba have significantly improved. Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro have established full diplomatic ties and opened their embassies in 2015 after half-century of frozen relations. Castro and the Cuban government had agreed to accept Cubans who are ordered to leave the U.S. due to illegal immigration. “During my administration, we worked to improve the lives of Cuban people by providing them with greater access to resources, information and connectivity to the wider world,” Obama stated. Many people have praised the change in the policy because it creates an equal relationship between the US and all of its neighbors. Senator Patrick Leahy said “I think it’s a good idea. We were telling the rest of the world they were different, and I don’t think that was the right thing to do.” This is exactly what the Obama administration was aiming for, equality between countries. Although many agreed this was the right thing to do, some such as Lincoln Diaz-Balart did not. The former Florida Republican Representative tweeted “Obama will continue to shower the enemies of freedom with gifts until 1/20/17.”
When president-elect Donald Trump is sworn in next week, he does have the ability to undo the rule. He has most recently criticized Obama’s moves to improve relations with Cuba. Trump also has a commitment to toughen immigration policies so undoing Obamas rule would create thousands of undocumented immigrants in America which Trump is very much against.
Now that the policy is inactive immediately, the US government will now consider residency requests from Cubans in the same way other migrants are processed when they arrive to America. U.S. officials stated that this decision will not affect Cubans already in America but only future migrants. Many people say that this decision came out of no where and blind sided immigrants. The Obama administration said it actually took a good amount of time to negotiate the shift with the Cuban government but they did not want to speculate any publicity as it would initiate fear and a possible surge in immigration flow.
Cubans are still welcome to the United States as immigrants but they will be treated the same as immigrants from other countries. The relations between U.S. and Cuba have grown greater in the last year then they have in the past decade.
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