U.S. and Cuba fi­nal­ize end to im­mi­gra­tion deal

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - NATION -

WASH­ING­TON >> Pres­i­dent Barack Obama an­nounced Thurs­day he is end­ing a long-stand­ing im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy that al­lows any Cuban who makes it to U.S. soil to stay and be­come a le­gal res­i­dent.

The re­peal of the “wet foot, dry foot” pol­icy is ef­fec­tive im­me­di­ately. The de­ci­sion fol­lows months of ne­go­ti­a­tions fo­cused in part on get­ting Cuba to agree to take back peo­ple who had ar­rived in the U.S. “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,” Obama said in a state­ment. “By tak­ing this step, we are treat­ing Cuban mi­grants the same way we treat mi­grants from other coun­tries. The Cuban gov­ern­ment has agreed to ac­cept the re­turn of Cuban na­tion­als who have been or­dered re­moved, just as it has been ac­cept­ing the re­turn of mi­grants in­ter­dicted at sea.”

The Cuban gov­ern­ment praised the move. In a state­ment read on state tele­vi­sion, it called the sign­ing of the agree­ment “an im­por­tant step in ad­vanc­ing re­la­tions” be­tween the U.S. and Cuba that “aims to guar­an­tee nor­mal, safe and or­dered mi­gra­tion.”

Obama is us­ing an ad­min­is­tra­tive rule change to end the pol­icy. Don­ald Trump could undo that rule af­ter be­com­ing pres­i­dent next week. He has crit­i­cized Obama’s moves to im­prove re­la­tions with Cuba. But end­ing a pol­icy that has al­lowed hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple to come to the United States with­out a visa also aligns with Trump’s com­mit­ment to tough im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies.

Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton cre­ated “wet foot, dry foot” pol­icy in 1995 as a re­vi­sion of a more lib­eral im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy that al­lowed Cubans caught at sea to come to the United States and be­come le­gal res­i­dents in a year. The two gov­ern­ments have been ne­go­ti­at­ing an end to “wet foot, dry foot” for months and fi­nal­ized an agree­ment Thurs­day. A decades-old U.S. eco­nomic em­bargo, though, re­mains in place, as does the Cuban Ad­just­ment Act, which lets Cubans be­come per­ma­nent res­i­dents a year af­ter legally ar­riv­ing in the U.S. Un­der the terms of the agree­ment, Cuba has agreed to take back those turned away from the U.S., if the time be­tween their de­par­ture from Cuba and the start of de­por­ta­tion hear­ings in the U.S. is four years or less. Of­fi­cials said the time frame is re­quired un­der a Cuban law en­acted af­ter Congress passed the Cuban Ad­just­ment Act.

“For this to work, the Cubans had to agree to take peo­ple back,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser. Of­fi­cials said the changes would not af­fect a lot­tery that al­lows 20,000 Cubans to come to the U.S. legally each year. But Rhodes cast the shift as a nec­es­sary step to­ward Cuba’s eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ment. Obama said the Cuban Med­i­cal Pro­fes­sional Pa­role Pro­gram, which was started by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush in 2006, is also be­ing re­scinded. The mea­sure al­lowed Cuban doc­tors, nurses and other med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als to seek pa­role in the U.S. while on as­sign­ments abroad. The pres­i­dent said those doc­tors can still ap­ply for asy­lum at U.S. em­bassies around the world. Also Thurs­day, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion des­ig­nated three new na­tional mon­u­ments hon­or­ing civil rights his­tory as it com­mem­o­rates next week’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The mon­u­ments are the Birm­ing­ham Civil Rights Na­tional Mon­u­ment in Alabama, the Free­dom Rid­ers Na­tional Mon­u­ment in An­nis­ton, Ala., and the Re­con­struc­tion Era Na­tional Mon­u­ment in South Carolina.

Obama also ex­panded the ter­ri­tory of the Cal­i­for­nia Coastal Na­tional Mon­u­ment, adding six sites and more than 6,000 acres to an area that in­cludes islets, reefs and rock out­crop­pings span­ning much of the state’s coast­line.

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