Obama Administration Ending “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” Cuban Policy

The Obama administration is ending the “wet foot, dry foot” policy in place that automatically grants legal permanent residency to Cubans who arrive in the United States by land without visas and returns those intercepted at sea. The Obama administration is also ending a policy to immediately deport Cubans apprehended at ports of entry or at a U.S. land border, mainly the one with Mexico. Furthermore, the administration is eliminating the favorable policy towards Cuban medical professionals, known as the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, pursuant to which Cuban medical professionals stationed in international missions could defect and get expedited visas to the US.

President Clinton’s administration instituted the wet-foot/dry-foot policy in the mid-1990s to deal with the Cuban rafter crisis. Before the agreement, amid widespread economic and political unrest in Cuba, approximately 35,000 Cubans fled the communist regime to the US in makeshift boats and rafts

The major change in policy is a result of the President Obama’s attempt to normalize diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba and terminate the decades-old trade embargo that the US has in place against Cuba.

The 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, from which the “wet foot, dry foot” policy originally derives, remains in place, although Obama administration officials are calling for its repeal by Congress. Cubans who reach US soil will still be allowed to apply for asylum or other humanitarian relief, but they will not be given preferential treatment.

To carry out the new policy, the Cuban government agreed to take back 2,746 Cubans who were excludable rom the US after the 1980 Mariel boatlift as well as some others who came to the US at the same time and committed crimes. That leaves the vast majority of the longstanding deportation Cuban cases pending, although the Cuban government agreed to review the decisions on a case-by-case basis.