Ordinary Cubans fret about end to U.S. immigration policy
HAVANA >> Ordinary Cubans worried Friday about the economic problems that could be caused for some people by the sudden end to a once-easy pathway to life in the United States, saying many people who already left the island to take advantage of the earlier American immigration policy could wind up back home with nothing.
President Barack Obama on Thursday ended the possibility of automatic legal residency for any Cuban who touches U.S. soil. Those people who were in the middle of trips to get to the United States could be the biggest losers, some Cubans said.
“There are people who have sold houses, renounced everything, and today they are in limbo,” said Leonardo Serrano, a 47-year-old who works for a firm that operates with private and government investment. “They won’t be able to get there, and when they return they won’t have anything.”
Average Cubans and opponents of the island’s communist leaders said they expected pressure for reform on the island to increase with the elimination of a mechanism that siphoned off the island’s most dissatisfied citizens and turned them into sources of remittances supporting relatives who remained on the island.
The repeal of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy went into effect immediately after a Thursday afternoon announcement. It followed months of negotiations focused in part on getting Cuba to agree to take back people who had arrived in the U.S.
Cubans fearful of an imminent end to a special immigration status bestowed during the Cold War had been flocking to the United States since the Dec. 17, 2014 announcement that the U.S. and Cuba would re-establish diplomatic relations and move toward normalization. About 100,000 left for the United States after the declaration of detente, many flooding overland through South and Central America and Mexico in an exodus that irritated U.S. allies and other immigrant groups and spawned bitter complaints from the Cuban government.
“It was creating serious problems for the security of Cuba, for the security of the United States and for the security of our citizens left vulnerable to human trafficking, migratory fraud and violence as a result of the incentives created by these preferential policies,” said Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s top diplomat for U.S. affairs.
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.
“This was bound to happen at some point,” said Havana taxi driver Guillermo Britos, 35. “It could impose a more normal dynamic on emigration, so that not so many people die at sea, but it could also take an escape valve away from the government, which was getting hard currency from the emigrants.”
Cuban refugees float in seas 60 miles south of Key West, Florida. President Barack Obama announced Thursday he is ending a longstanding immigration policy that allows any Cuban who makes it to U.S. soil to stay and become a legal resident.