One of the hallmarks of President Barack Obama’s tenure in office has been his lenient attitude toward illegal immigrants, signified by his lax enforcement of immigration laws, but there is at least one group of foreign nationals trying desperately to enter the U.S. that Obama just cracked down on.
According to Fox News, with essentially just a week left before leaving office, Obama scrapped a longstanding policy toward Cuban refugees fleeing the communist regime, a policy that allowed them to stay in the U.S. if they successfully reached the mainland and fast-tracked them for permanent residency.
The “wet foot, dry foot” policy, so named because any Cuban who reached dry land could stay while those caught in the open water were turned back or sent somewhere else, was implemented by the Clinton administration in the mid-1990s during a surge in Cubans fleeing the Castro dictatorship.
Newsmax reported that the policy change had been in the works for months but kept quiet out of fear it would cause another surge in Cubans fleeing Cuba. A major component of the policy change was Cuba’s agreement to accept any Cuban migrants sent back to them, though there were no assurances on how those individuals would be treated once back under control of the Communists.
Concurrent with this policy change was the scrapping of a program run by the Department of Homeland Security that offered a special “parole” for Cuban medical professionals seeking refuge, a program that had received particular ire from the Communist Cubans as they blamed it for their inability to keep trained and capable medical professionals working in their socialized health care system.
As could be expected, the sudden change in the “wet foot, dry foot” policy has received mixed reviews. Cubans who have successfully fled their former island prison are upset that the special protection offered to their fellow dissidents seeking asylum has been lifted, while immigrants from other notorious communist regimes like Venezuela or crime-infested/war-torn regions are glad that no one group has an extra advantage in emigrating to the U.S.
According to The Washington Post, Obama said of his policy that “Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally … will be subject to removal,” noting that they’d be treated “the same way we treat migrants from other countries.”
“The aim here is to treat Cuban migrants in a manner consistent to migrants who come here from other countries … equalizing our immigration policies … as part of the overall normalization process with Cuba,” DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson explained. “Our approach to Cubans arriving (at the border) tomorrow will be the same as those arriving from other countries.”
As could be expected, the Cuban government was thrilled to learn of the policy change, calling it an “important step” in improving relations. They have often criticized the previous policy as encouraging Cubans to immigrate illegally, often by using dangerously un-seaworthy vessels to cross the 90-mile stretch of water to reach the shores of south Florida.
Needless to say, it struck some as a bit odd that, given Obama’s historically lenient attitude toward illegal immigrants, he would pick this one group to crack down on, particularly when they have historically proven to be one of the most motivated and patriotically pro-American segments of the immigrant population in the U.S.
The fact that Cuban refugees tend to be more conservative and vote Republican more often than other immigrant groups was not lost on some critics either.
It remained to be seen if President-elect Donald Trump would reverse this decision once he assumes office.
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