Or­di­nary Cubans fret about end to U.S. im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - NATION+WORLD - By An­drea Ro­driguez, Ali­cia A. Cald­well and Julie Pace

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.

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