January 12, 2017 - The United States is revoking the so-called “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy for Cuban migrants that has been in place since the mid-1990s. Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to illegally enter the United States will be subject to removal, consistent with US enforcement priorities. The United States is also ending the special Cuban Medical Professional Parole program.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) states that
"[t]hese actions are part of the ongoing normalization of relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba, and reflect a commitment to have a broader immigration policy in which we treat people from different countries consistently. To the extent permitted by the current laws of our two countries, the United States will now treat Cuban migrants in a manner consistent with how it treats others; unauthorized migrants can expect to be removed unless they qualify for humanitarian relief under our laws."
the change ends the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy, adopted by the Clinton administration in 1996 at a time when illegal seaborne migrants were flooding across the Florida Straits. That policy differentiated between those reaching U.S. soil - who were allowed to stay - and those intercepted at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard - who were returned to Cuba or sent to third countries.
According to news reports, the total number of Cubans admitted after reaching here without visas by land or sea was 4,890 in 2013. In 2016, the number was 53,416. According to the Coast Guard, 1,885 people traveling by sea have either arrived here or been intercepted — and sent back — in fiscal 2017, which began Oct. 1.
The Government of Cuba has agreed to begin to accept the return of Cuban nationals who have been ordered removed. Cuba and the United States will work to further discourage unlawful migration to the United States and promote bilateral cooperation to prevent and prosecute alien smuggling and other crimes related to illegal migration.
To view the Joint Statement of the United States and Cuban governments, please click here. To view the Fact Sheet, please click here.
Elaine Martin has been practising US and global immigration law since 1997. She is an immigrant herself (from Ireland), so has a special understanding of the legal and emotional challenges involved in relocating to a new country.