On Thursday, January 12, 2017, the Obama Administration announced they are reversing a long-standing immigration policy that granted legal status to Cuban immigrants once they touch down American soil. The announcement came as a surprise and now means Cuban migrants must follow the proper legal channels to gain entry into the U.S.
The Cuban Adjustment Act along with the “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy allowed Cuban immigrants to gain entry into the U.S. without requiring they first obtain a visa. Once a Cuban touches U.S. soil, they were given permission to stay and were eventually granted permanent residency after one year and a day. The “wet foot, dry foot” policy is well-known, and for decades Cuban immigrants have been entering the U.S. without having to follow the same procedures as immigrants from other countries.
Cubans have been excluded from the rigorous process of emigrating legally because of Fidel Castro’s regime and civil rights violations, but the political climate in Cuba is slowly changing. The county has adopted more liberal immigration policies and has begun to allow free travel of citizens and tourists.
“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,” President Barack Obama said in a statement announcing the policy change.
With the change in policy, Cuban immigrants who are removable under the Immigration Nationality Act will face deportation. There are ways for Cuban immigrants to avoid deportation, but they need to seek out the help of an immigration attorney.
Some Cuban immigrants will face removal now that leaders on the island have agreed to take back over 2,700 immigrants who were removable because they committed crimes or Cubans who entered the U.S. after the 1980 Mariel boatlift or during that same period. Cuba will now accept those immigrants, as long as the policy remains in place with the incoming Trump administration.
There are critics of President Obama’s policy changes, but there has been widespread abuse of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy and U.S.- Cuba relations are improving. The Sun Sentinel found in 2015 that organized rings of Cuban immigrants exploited the policy and funneled money obtained illegally through Medicare fraud, car insurance scams and other illegal activities. The newspaper also showed that Cuban immigrants collect welfare and return home despite claiming that they were fleeing persecution. The Sun Sentinel also found that some elderly Cuban immigrants began receiving social security immediately upon arrival even though they never worked a day in the U.S. and didn’t contribute to the program.
Despite the what some of Obama’s critics say, Cuban immigrants will still have some preferential treatment. However, if the new policy stands, Cuban immigrants will be required to go through the same legal channels and apply for a visa or asylum just like immigrants from other countries, also with repressive regimes, are required to do.
It is possible for Cuban immigrants who are facing removal to avoid deportation, but they need to get the advice of an immigration attorney. USAttorneys can connect immigrants with a lawyer near their location who can help them with any immigration issues they have. Whether you need to apply for a visa, sponsor a family member for a visa or apply for asylum.