It is safe to say that no one saw it coming, that is, the January 12 announcement from President Barack Obama about an end to the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” policy with Cuba, a policy that has been controversial in the U.S. Latino community for years.
Here is part of what Obama said on Thursday:
“Today, the United States is taking important steps forward to normalize relations with Cuba and to bring greater consistency to our immigration policy. The Department of Homeland Security is ending the so-called “wet-foot/dry foot” policy, which was put in place more than twenty years ago and was designed for a different era. Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with U.S. law and enforcement priorities. By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries. The Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of Cuban nationals who have been ordered removed, just as it has been accepting the return of migrants interdicted at sea.”
Obama’s statement was followed by one from Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson. Here is a part of what Johnson said:
“The United States is revoking the so-called “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy for Cuban migrants that has been in place since the mid-1990s. Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to illegally enter the United States will be subject to removal, consistent with our enforcement priorities. The United States is also ending the special Cuban Medical Professional Parole program.
These actions are part of the ongoing normalization of relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba, and reflect a commitment to have a broader immigration policy in which we treat people from different countries consistently. To the extent permitted by the current laws of our two countries, the United States will now treat Cuban migrants in a manner consistent with how it treats others; unauthorized migrants can expect to be removed unless they qualify for humanitarian relief under our laws.
The Government of Cuba has agreed to begin to accept the return of Cuban nationals who have been ordered removed. Cuba and the United States will work to further discourage unlawful migration to the United States and promote bilateral cooperation to prevent and prosecute alien smuggling and other crimes related to illegal migration.
Though the Cuban Adjustment Act and certain Cuban laws remain in effect, today’s announcement goes a long way to putting our relationship with Cuba on equal terms with our relationships with other neighbors.”
This news, to put it mildly, is huge. As we said, the policy has always been a wedge issue within our community, and online reaction from the news confirmed it. Here is just a sample of the reactions we have received on our Facebook page in the last 12 hours:
“Maybe now more Cubans will give a damn about undocumented immigrant detention. Instead of blindly electing the people pushing for undocumented immigrants to be treated as criminals.” Christopher B
“Sadly, that’s what this election brought to the Hispanic community division amongst themselves. Cubans that voted for trump did not care what would’ve happened to Mexicans or Central Americans now all those same Mexicans and Central Americans are glad that Obama did this.” Robert H
“In all of this lets not forget that los cubanos are our brothers and sisters. Give the Florida Cubans some time and you’ll see the next generation revolting against their republican parents.” Mixihcatl S
“It’s like that? You guys really hate Cubans huh?” Jaclyn JdeV
“I’m Cuban and while this brings mixed emotions because of family members who left very tough situations through the policy I totally agree with ending it. I think it’s about time we have to face the same process other Latin Americans have to. However, so many posts are also super hostile towards Cubans. (Not talking about this) The older generation and the younger generation have become very politically dissimilar. But things are changing. It’s time we stand up and fight for joint intersectional liberation for all Latinxs rather than continue to be the tokens of the Republican Party.” Christopher M
“As a Cuban American I’m delighted! I’m going to open up a champagne bottle and celebrate with the majority of Cuban Americans who are disgusted with the crap that is coming from Cuba. They come over here and in a year they are back in Cuba celebrating in Varadero Beach with the welfare money they get in the USA! This will mean less money funneling back to the tyrannical castro regime!” Radames S
“As a Cuban-American Socialist, I feel this is the right move. Cubans have been given unfair advantages when it comes to immigration.” Raymond C
“Immigration reform must happen equally for everyone, not just a select few. Cuban American political leaders have always turned their back on the rest of the immigrant communities here in the United States, never insisting that same privilege they received should be extended to everyone. It’s about time this ended.” Brandon H
Meanwhile, Florida senator Marco Rubio (R) has already criticized the Obama decision, saying the following in a statement:
“While I have acknowledged the need to reform the Cuban Adjustment Act for some time now, the Obama Administration’s characterization of this change as part of the ongoing normalization with the Castro regime is absurd. It is in fact President Obama’s failed Cuba policy, combined with the Castro regime’s increased repression, that has led to a rise in Cuban migration since 2014.
“The Cuban Adjustment Act has provided countless Cubans the opportunity to escape the Castro tyranny. However, in recent years it has also led to growing abuses. While some changes were needed, we must work to ensure that Cubans who arrive here to escape political persecution are not summarily returned to the regime, and they are given a fair opportunity to apply for and receive political asylum.
“Furthermore, I am concerned by the decision to terminate the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program. For decades, the Castro regime has forced thousands of doctors to go abroad as a tool of its foreign policy. This is political repression, and I am optimistic that the incoming Trump Administration will reverse this part of the executive order and allow these doctors to seek asylum at U.S. embassies or consulates in other countries.
“I had the opportunity to discuss this issue with Vice President-elect Pence this evening, and I am heartened by the fact that in a week we will have a new administration committed to discarding the failed Cuba policy of the last two years.”