Friday, January 13, 2017 at 6:49 AM

Obama Ends Discriminatory ‘Wet Foot, Dry Foot’ Cuba Policy

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

I’ve been decrying this policy for twenty years; not least because:

[It] stipulates that seafaring Cuban refugees who make it to U.S. shores must be assimilated, unconditionally; whereas seafaring Haitian refugees (fleeing even greater persecution and privations) who make it must be repatriated, summarily.

(“Compassion Fatigue for Haitian Migrants,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 31, 2009)

I’ve been denouncing former President Bill Clinton just as long for devising it only to pander to Miami Cubans and their paradise-lost presumptions. After all, this policy was not only discriminatory in its application, but also racist in its impact.

This is why I called on President Obama (in the commentary quoted above, just six months into his presidency) to either apply this policy to Haitians too … or end it:

President Obama must reconcile [America’s] unfulfilled obligations [to foster sustainable development in Haiti] with the moral imperative to reform U.S. immigration laws to give Haitians the same protected status Cuban migrants have always enjoyed.

Incidentally, I called on him to do this in the above-quoted commentary, which I wrote just six months into his presidency.

I fully understood, of course, that applying the “wet foot, dry foot” policy to Haitians would have invited sympathetic calls to apply it to others in the region, making the policy prohibitive.

I was also mindful that the politics of implementing any change in policy towards Cuba precluded Obama doing so during his first term; hence my commentary, “Fifth Summit of the Americas: Managing Expectations,” April 17, 2009, which included this prescient note just three months into his presidency:

I am convinced that, if re-elected, Obama will seal his legacy by normalizing relations with Cuba.

Sure enough, once re-elected Obama did just that:

One bitter holdover of the Cold War slipped into the history books at 12:01 a.m. Monday, when the United States and Cuba re-established diplomatic relations. For the first time since severing ties in 1961, they reopened embassies in each other’s capitals.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla traveled to the Cuban Embassy in Washington to raise his country’s flag, an event that Cuban government officials said would be broadcast live on the island’s state-run TV.

(CNN, July 20, 2015)

But, even though convinced that, if re-elected, Obama would end the “wet foot, dry foot” policy as well, I never thought he’d wait until the last week of his presidency to do so.

President Obama, in one of his last foreign policy initiatives, will lift the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy that has allowed Cubans reaching U.S. soil to stay and receive American residency, while sending home those intercepted at sea, according to U.S. officials.

The policy, put in place by the Clinton administration in 1996, altered the long-standing special immigration status of Cubans in place since the 1960s that had sent hundreds of thousands across the Florida Straits, often in leaky boats or homemade rafts.

(Washington Post, January 12, 2017)

But, hey, better late than never!

That said, Donald Trump will have the authority to reinstate this policy on day one of his presidency – a week from today in fact. And it might seem a certainty given his pledge to “terminate the deal” Obama struck to normalize relations with Cuba.

But, like his pledge to terminate the deal Obama struck to halt Iran’s nuclear program, it will prove far easier said than done. Remember his pledge to ban all Muslims…? Well, that has already been broken to resemble little more than the “extreme vetting” the Obama administration has had in place for years.

Frankly, the juxtaposition of building a wall to keep Mexicans out and reinstating a policy to invite Cubans in might prove too contradictory … even for Trump. For there’s no denying that the impact of this policy reversal will be a halt in the kind of illegal immigration from Cuba Trump wants to halt from Mexico.

Not to mention that, thanks to Obama normalizing relations, Miami Cubans now seem far more interested in traveling to Cuba than in having Cubans escape to Miami. For them, this “wet foot, dry foot” policy is hardly the sacred cow it was twenty (or even eight) years ago.

Related commentaries:
Compassion fatigue
Fifth Summit
Obama normalizing relations….

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