President Obama just ended a decades old policy that allowed escapees from Communist Cuba to enter the United States without a visa. Known as “wet feet, dry feet,” it allowed Cubans who showed up at America’s borders to enter lawfully and earn an expedited green card. Cuba’s brutal Communist dictatorship, proximity to the United States, and history were the reasons for this relative openness. Now he sends a clear message to Cubans seeking freedom: stay away.
And everybody thought Donald Trump was going to be the anti-immigrant president.
Cubans can still apply for asylum but that backlogged system is a bureaucratic mess. Asylum seekers who filed in August 2011 in Southern California didn’t get a scheduled interview until November 2016. D.C. immigration attorney Ava Benach told me that this will annually add tens of thousands of asylum-deserving Cubans to that crowded system. She hastened to add that ending “wet feet, dry feet” is a big step toward “achieving the Cuban government’s goal of stopping Cuban emigration.”
The one bright spot is that Obama’s action did not repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act which still allows Cubans to get a green card after being present in the United States for one year. Thus, many who enter seeking asylum will still be able to get a green card until the law is changed by Congress.
But the message sent by this policy shift is clear.
Virtually all of the people with Cuban ancestry who are free and prosperous today either left Cuba or are descended from those who did. Freedom House’s 2016 report ranks Cuba as the only “not free” country in the Western hemisphere with the lowest possible scores for political rights. In 2016, almost 10,000 Cubans were arbitrarily arrested while there is no free speech or independent media. About 176,000 Cubans recognized those problems and came to the United States during Obama’s Presidency – 60,000 in 2016. Almost ten percent of all Cuba born people in the world live in the United States.