Obama Beats Trump to the Punch, Ends Wet Foot, Dry Foot

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

January 14, 2017

On January 12, President Barack Obama announced that, effective immediately, he would end the “wet foot, dry foot” policy. During Bill Clinton’s second term, a 1995 amendment to the Cuban Adjustment Act created the controversial program which allowed Cubans that made it to the mainland of the United States to remain, eventually become legal permanent residents and qualify for affirmative benefits. Cubans interdicted at sea would be returned home. In May 1995, the U.S. accepted its first group of dry foots, 21,000 Guantanamo refugees.

President Obama with Cuba’s Communist President Raul Castro.

The Obama administration also eliminated the Cuban Medical Professional Parole program which allowed certain Cuban medical personnel in third countries to apply for parole if they could prove that they were studying or working abroad under the direction of the Cuban government.

Ironically, most of the Cubans coming to the U.S. since Obama took office have been arriving not via the Atlantic Ocean but through the Southwest border where they line up with other international migrants to walk into the U.S. During fiscal year 2016, more than 41,500 Cubans showed up at the southern border, a five-year high. By the end of November 2016 and with no end in sight, an additional 7,000 joined the growing number of Cuban migrants.

During his campaign, President-elect Trump expressed opposition to wet foot, dry foot. When the Miami Herald asked Trump about the policy, he responded without specifically promising to end it but suggesting he might: “I don’t think that’s fair. I mean why would that be a fair thing?”

Cuba hailed Obama’s announcement, and agreed to repatriate Cubans with final deportation orders from the U.S.

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