On January 12, the White House announced it would end the “wet foot, dry foot” policy toward Cuban migrants. What this means is that, going forward, Cuban migrants who enter the U.S. without authorization will be treated the same as other undocumented immigrants.
Since the 1960’s Cuban migrants have been presumed to be fleeing political persecution, a policy enshrined in the Cuban Adjustment Act. That law gives Cubans who make it into the U.S. automatic permanent resident status after one year. There have been changes over the years. In the mid-1990’s, the Clinton Administration tried to discourage Cubans from departing for the U.S. by boat in a policy that became known as “wet-foot, dry-foot.” Cubans interdicted at sea by the U.S. Coast were returned to Cuba. But Cubans who made it to U.S. shores were “paroled” into the U.S., and became eligible for permanent residence after one year.
With the U.S. and Cuba re-establishing diplomatic ties, there has been an uptick in the number of Cuban migrants traveling overland through Central America and Mexico to the U.S.-Mexico border—out of concern that the deal offered by the Cuban Adjustment Act would soon end. With the administration’s new policy, Cubans will no longer be paroled into the U.S., closing off the opportunity for automatic permanent residence. Instead, Cubans who fear persecution upon return will have to make their case through the asylum process, just like any other migrant.
I explain more about this policy and the Cuban Adjustment Act in my post on Immigration Impact.