President Barack Obama is ending the "wet foot, dry foot" policy that has allowed Cubans who touch U.S. soil to become legal permanent residents after one year.
News of the country's break from the 20-year-old policy came Thursday from a congressional staffer who, while briefed by the Obama administration, was not authorized to go public about the decision. According to the official, both the U.S. and Cuba are expected to make a joint statement late Thursday.
The president is using an administrative rule change to end the policy, which was instituted in 1995 by then-President Bill Clinton. While Donald Trump will have the power to undo the rule when he takes office next week, it's possible that he won't. The president-elect built his campaign on his tough – racist and controversial – immigration proposals, and considering "wet foot, dry foot" has allowed hundreds of thousands of Cuban immigrants to enter the U.S. without a visa, it may be a policy that he would like to see go away.
In the early 1990s, during the fall of the Soviet Union and under Fidel Castro’s rule, Cuba was experiencing an economic crisis that pushed tens of thousands of islanders to take risky journeys on makeshift boats and rafts to the U.S. Many lives were lost en route to South Florida. Unwilling to send Cubans back to the communist country they risked their lives to escape, Clinton enacted “wet foot, dry foot.”
The policy has been widely criticized by the Cuban government for giving cubanos special privileges that encourage them to make the dangerous voyage and drains the country of its professionals.
According to the official, Cubans leaving the country and taking advantage of "wet foot, dry foot" have predominately been doing so in recent years for economic reasons.
Along with the policy, the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, started by President George W. Bush in 2006 to allow Cuban doctors, nurses and medical professionals to gain parole in the U.S. while on assignments abroad, is also being canceled.
Those Cubans in the U.S. on "wet foot, dry foot" or the medical parole program will be able to continue their process toward getting legal status despite the change.