Hon­ey­moon over for Cuban im­mi­grants

The Herald (Zimbabwe) - - World News -

WASHINGTON. - The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion on Thurs­day re­pealed a mea­sure grant­ing au­to­matic res­i­dency to vir­tu­ally ev­ery Cuban who ar­rived in the United States, whether or not they had visas, end­ing a long-stand­ing ex­cep­tion to US im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy.

The end of the “wet foot, dry foot” pol­icy, which al­lowed any Cuban who reached US soil to stay but re­turned any picked up at sea, is ef­fec­tive im­me­di­ately. Cuban of­fi­cials had sought the change for years.

The shift had been in the works for months. It was an­nounced abruptly be­cause ad­vance warn­ing might have in­spired thou­sands more peo­ple to take to the seas be­tween the Com­mu­nist-ruled is­land and Florida in or­der to beat a dead­line.

The United States and Cuba spent sev­eral months ne­go­ti­at­ing the change, in­clud­ing an agree­ment from Cuba to al­low those turned away from the United States to re­turn.

“With this change, we will con­tinue to wel­come Cubans as we wel­come im­mi­grants from other na­tions, con­sis­tent with our laws,” Obama said in a state­ment.

The Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity also ended a pa­role pro­gramme that al­lowed en­try for Cuban med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als. That pro­gramme was un­pop­u­lar with Ha­vana be­cause it prompted doc­tors to leave, sap­ping the coun­try’s pool of trained health work­ers.

The US Coast Guard in­ter­cepts thou- sands of Cubans at­tempt­ing the 145km cross­ing to Florida ev­ery year, but tens of thou­sands who reach US soil, in­clud­ing via Mex­ico, have been al­lowed to stay in the coun­try, while im­mi­grants from other na­tions have been rounded up and sent home.

Cuba wel­comed the pol­icy changes, say­ing they would ben­e­fit the whole re­gion by dis­cour­ag­ing peo­ple-traf­fick­ing and dan­ger­ous jour­neys that led to bot­tle­necks of Cubans in Cen­tral Amer­ica last year.

“To­day, a det­o­na­tor of im­mi­gra­tion crises is elim­i­nated. The United States achieves le­gal, se­cure and or­dered mi­gra­tion from Cuba,” said Jose­fina Vi­dal, the Cuban for­eign min­istry’s chief for US af­fairs.

El Sal­vador’s for­eign min­istry also wel­comed the move, say­ing “there can­not be mi­grants of dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories.” Hon­duras, from where thou­sands flee each year with­out the at­trac­tion of favourable US im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies, said it would wait to see if the flow of Cubans ac­tu­ally re­duced.

Cubans on road to US dis­traught about newly closed bor­der

An­tic­i­pat­ing the end of the pol­icy, Cuban im­mi­gra­tion has surged since the 2014 nor­mal­i­sa­tion, said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser.

“Peo­ple were mo­ti­vated to mi­grate,” Rhodes told re­porters on a call, not­ing some 40 000 Cubans ar­rived in 2015 and about 54 000 in 2016.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion had re­jected Cuban en­treaties to over­turn the pol­icy be­fore Obama’s his­toric visit to the is­land last year, al­though even some White House aides ar­gued that it was out­moded given ef­forts to reg­u­larise re­la­tions be­tween the for­mer Cold War foes.

“Wet foot, dry foot” be­gan in 1995 un­der Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton af­ter an ex­o­dus of tens of thou­sands of Cubans who were picked up at sea by the Coast Guard as they tried to reach Florida.

Obama has been work­ing to nor­malise re­la­tions with Cuba since he and Pres­i­dent Raul Cas­tro an­nounced a break­through in diplo­matic re­la­tions in De­cem­ber 2014. His ad­min­is­tra­tion has eased re­stric­tions on travel and trade, al­low­ing more US busi­ness with Cuba and im­proved com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the is­land.

The move to end the pol­icy comes just eight days be­fore the Demo­cratic pres­i­dent turns the White House over to Repub­li­can Don­ald Trump, who has said the United States should get more con­ces­sions from Ha­vana in ex­change for im­proved re­la­tions.

US im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy has given Cubans ben­e­fits granted to na­tion­als from no other coun­try. Un­til now, vir­tu­ally ev­ery Cuban who made it to US soil was granted the right to stay in the coun­try, the right to ap­ply for work per­mits and, later, green cards, which con­vey law­ful per­ma­nent res­i­dency.

Jeh John­son, Sec­re­tary of Home­land Se­cu­rity, said on a call that Cuba will take back cit­i­zens as long as less than four years have passed be­tween the time the mi­grant left Cuba and the start of the US de­por­ta­tion pro­ceed­ings.

Un­der the agree­ment Cuba will take back some 2 700 peo­ple who left the is­land among 125 000 oth­ers dur­ing the Mariel boat lift of 1980, ful­fill­ing an agree­ment made in 1984 to take back 2 746 peo­ple who the United States did not grant cit­i­zen­ship to, mainly peo­ple with crim­i­nal con­vic­tions.

Cuba has pre­vi­ously taken back only a hand­ful of that group.

The new pol­icy sparked mixed emo­tions in Mi­ami’s Lit­tle Ha­vana neigh­bor­hood. -

Barack Obama

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