Wet Foot Dry Foot Policy 2017

An End to Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot

After two-decades in place, the wet-foot, dry-foot policy was scrapped by the Obama administration. Just what does the elimination of this policy mean for the United States, Cuba, and current Cuban immigrants in the United States, though? It depends on who you ask.


A Brief History of the Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot Policy

In 1959 Fidel Castro ascended to power in Cuba. From that time, Cuban arrivals in the United States were seen as refugees who were seeking asylum from political persecution. As a result of this, Cuban immigrants were generally permitted to stay in the United States.

In 1966, Congress passed the Cuban Adjustment Act as a direct result of Cuban immigration. The act permitted entry to the U.S. any Cuban immigrant who made it to U.S. waters. These immigrants were then eligible to receive a green card after just two years of residence in the United States. This mandatory two-year residency was reduced to just one year following the Nationality Act Amendments of 1976.

The acceptance of Cuban immigrants into the United States was a bone of contention for Cuban officials who saw the act as encouragement of unsafe migration practices. Despite their irritation with the policy, however, the act remained in place until 1996 when it was reduced by the Clinton Administration.

In 1995, the Clinton Administration created the Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot policy. This policy established that only Cuban immigrants who managed to make it to U.S. soil were eligible for U.S. admittance. Any Cuban immigrant caught at sea would be refused entry and turned back to Cuba. At the time of its passing, the policy was touted as being a safeguard of sorts, put in place to discourage risky immigration tactics as well as to assist in “normalizing” immigration. Despite these claims, neither was a consequence of the policy.


Change Brought About By the Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot Policy

Following the enactment of the Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot policy, the U.S. Coast Guard statistics reflected a sharp increase in maritime interdictions of Cuban migrants. This upward trend continued over the following decades. Despite more Cuban migrants being interdicted, were fewer Cubans immigrating to the United States? The data says ‘no.’ According to the number of Cuban immigrants obtaining permanent U.S. resident status in the years following Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot, the number of Cuban immigrants obtaining permanent residency in the U.S. increased. In fact, between 2000 and 2009 this number exceeded the number of permanent resident status granted to Cuban immigrants in the exile migrations following Castro’s rise to power.

DecadeCuban Immigrants to the U.S.
(Showing Only Those Who Obtained Permanent Resident Status)

In addition to the data above, the Pew Research Center estimates some 56,406 Cubans entered the United States in 2016 alone, an increase from the 43,159 in 2015 and the 24,278 in 2014.

So, if Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot saw little impact on the number of Cuban immigrants obtaining permanent residence in the U.S. what did it do? Among other things, it redirected U.S. Coast Guard efforts and continued to draw attention to what many saw as “special privileges” for Cuban migrants over other migrants.


The Scrapping of Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot

The Cuban Adjustment Act was enacted to provide political asylum to Cuban immigrants in the United States. The Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot policy, put into place in 1995 following a surge in Cuban immigration via unsafe means. In more recent years, however, the number of Cuban immigrants seeking permanent residence in the U.S. due to political asylum has been overtaken by those seeking better economic conditions. It is this, in part, that prompted Obama to scrap the Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot policy.

Perhaps more pressure to scrap the Cuban immigration policy came from the preferential treatment that it afforded one group of immigrants over another. In a time when many more citizens of countries around the world are fleeing their homes and seeking asylum in the United States, the preferential treatment afforded by the Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot policy has come under closer scrutiny. Why should Cuban immigrants be afforded easier passage into the United States? Particularly when increasing numbers of immigrants are seeking better economic conditions rather than fleeing persecution.

If the repeal of the Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot policy was such a necessary step to “normalize” immigration, however, why did Obama wait until the end of his term to repeal it? There was no doubt that the repeal would be an unpopular one among many groups. Why? Because buried under the facade of normalizing immigration, there are questions of what will happen to immigrants who are returned to Cuba as a result of the repeal. With the repeal of Wet-Foot Dry-Foot, Cuba has agreed to take back immigrants deported from the United States, but ominously, little has been said about what the communist-led nation intends on doing with their returned citizens. Many see it as a betrayal of the Cuban people and support of Raoul Castro’s regime.


What the End of Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot Means

Despite the various spoken and unspoken motivations behind the repeal of Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot, what exactly does the repeal mean?

For the United States, the hope in repealing Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot is that:

  1. There will be no preferential treatment of any one group of immigrants over another, creating a more “normalized” immigration policy.
  2. Diplomatic relations with Cuba will continue to grow since the policy was never favored by Cuban officials.
  3. Fewer Cuban immigrants will take unfair advantage of the economic benefits designed to care for refugees seeking asylum.
  4. A reduction in the number of immigrants being granted access to the resources of the United States.
  5. A possible increase in the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

For Cuba, repealing Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot means:

  1. The Cuban government has long been against the U.S. policy towards Cuban immigrants, this repeal appeases these government officials and enhances diplomatic relations with the U.S.
  2. For the Cuban people, the repeal means immigration to the U.S. must be done through official channels. Some argue that this means a safer life due to fewer dangerous immigration tactics, others argue that this makes a life of freedom much more difficult. What needs to be kept in mind, however, is that Cuban immigrants may still seek legitimate asylum in the United States.
  3. Cuban medical personnel stationed on international missions may no longer defect and receive U.S. visas.
  4. The Cuban economy will no doubt be influenced by the repeal, however, which way the influence will go is still up in the air. The added strain of more citizens to support may be detrimental, or the increased labor force may turn things in the opposite direction, only time will tell.
  5. The opportunity for change in the Cuban government.

For current Cuban immigrants to the United States, repealing Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot means:

  1. Effective immediately, Cuban immigrants are no longer permitted automatic entry to the United States. Entry must be achieved through official means.
  2. Cuban immigrants who were on the way to the U.S. at the time of the repeal are, for the moment, stranded with no guarantee of U.S. citizenship.
  3. Cuban immigrants who had their “feet inside” the U.S. before the repeal will not be affected by the repeal and will be permitted to stay.


Was Scrapping Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot in the U.S. Best Interest?

Whether scrapping Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot was in the best interest of the United States remains to be seen. What is known, however, is that the policy repeal supports the “America-Centered” approach to government being touted by President Donald Trump and it is unlikely to be reinstated in the near future.