Obama ends decades-old policy for Cuban migrants
WASHINGTONU.S. President Barack Obama on Jan 12 ended a decades-old policy that allowed Cuban migrants who arrived illegally on U.S. soil to stay.
In one of his final acts before leaving the White House, he scrapped rules allowing those fleeing communist Cuba and reaching American territory a fast track to permanent resident status.
Obama said the move would “bring greater consistency to our immigration policy.”
“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,” he said in a statement.
The Cuban government welcomed the decision on Jan. 12, calling it “an important step forward in bilateral relations.”
Preferential immigration treatment for Cuban immigrants enticed millions to flee the island, fueling economic stasis and a severe “brain drain.”
Meanwhile in the United States, the growing Cuban-American population became a potent political, cultural and economic force.
There are around 1.8 million Cuban-Americans today, including two Republican 2016 presidential candidates, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
Cuban issues stand at the forefront of politics in the crucial swing state of Florida, making politicians extremely wary about revoking the policy and lifting economic sanctions against Havana.
But the immigration policy came under pressure as Cuban-American politics have become less strident, with some viewing it as anachronistic and encouraging dangerous sea voyages in makeshift rafts.
Passed in 1966, the Cuban Adjustment Act has offered any citizen of Cuba admission and permanent residence in the United States after spending one year in the country, with no yearly quota on immigrants.
However, then-president Bill Clinton decided in 1995 that Cubans intercepted at sea would be sent home under the policy Obama scrapped today, which became known as “wetfoot/dryfoot.”
Today’s decision means normal immigration rules will also apply to Cubans arriving at land borders.