Effective immediately, the “wet foot, dry foot” policy applying to Cuban immigrants coming to the United States has officially ended.
President Obama made the announcement Thursday, saying the policy was “designed for a different era” of relations between the United States and Cuba.
The policy allowed any Cuban who landed on U.S. soil to stay and qualify as a legal resident. Those who were caught at sea could be turned back.
The Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of Cubans caught illegally in the United States, but gave no assurances about how they would be treated once they were sent back. Obama is reportedly leaving the door open for the option of political asylum to Cubans who are “concerned about persecution” if they return.
The “Cuban Adjustment Act” remains in place, which allows Cubans to become permanent U.S. residents once they have been in the United States legally for one year.
Obama stated, “By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries.”
Instead of coming by boat, thousands of Cubans have taken a new route to reach the U.S, coming up through Central America and presenting themselves at the ports of entry along the southern border.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, over 118,000 Cubans have come across the southern border since October 2012, and over 41,500 flooded into the country during Fiscal Year 2016 alone. Another 7,000 Cubans poured across the border during October and November.
Obama has also cancelled the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which allowed medical professionals from Cuban to seek asylum in the United States while on foreign assignments.
Those who are already “in the pipeline” will be able to remain in the process of obtaining their legal status in the United States.
A “lottery” that permits 20,000 Cubans to come to the U.S. legally each year remains in place.
Cuban immigrants reportedly have been receiving more than $680 million annually from the U.S. federal government in refugee benefits. As soon as they arrive in the U.S., they have been able to apply for political asylum benefits under the Refugee Resettlement Program, collecting benefits such as food stamps, health care, education and housing assistance. After remaining in the country for a year, they may apply for their Green Card.
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