Obama Ends Wet Foot/Dry Foot Policy, Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program

Christine Rousselle
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Posted: Jan 12, 2017 4:40 PM
Obama Ends Wet Foot/Dry Foot Policy, Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program

UPDATE: The president has released a statement, saying that the repeal of the policy was an effort to further normalize relations with Cuba. Obama said that the policy was "designed for a different era." Now, Cubans who reach the United States and "do not qualify for humanitarian relief" will be removed from the country, just as migrants from other nations are treated.

Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security ended the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which allowed Cuban medical professionals working in another country under orders of the Cuban government to move to the United States.

The full text of the statement:

Today, the United States is taking important steps forward to normalize relations with Cuba and to bring greater consistency to our immigration policy. The Department of Homeland Security is ending the so-called "wet-foot/dry foot" policy, which was put in place more than twenty years ago and was designed for a different era. 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. 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.

Today, the Department of Homeland Security is also ending the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program. The United States and Cuba are working together to combat diseases that endanger the health and lives of our people. By providing preferential treatment to Cuban medical personnel, the medical parole program contradicts those efforts, and risks harming the Cuban people. Cuban medical personnel will now be eligible to apply for asylum at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, consistent with the procedures for all foreign nationals.

The United States, a land of immigrants, has been enriched by the contributions of Cuban-Americans for more than a century. Since I took office, we have put the Cuban-American community at the center of our policies. With this change we will continue to welcome Cubans as we welcome immigrants from other nations, consistent with our laws. During my Administration, we worked to improve the lives of the Cuban people - inside of Cuba - by providing them with greater access to resources, information and connectivity to the wider world. Sustaining that approach is the best way to ensure that Cubans can enjoy prosperity, pursue reforms, and determine their own destiny. As I said in Havana, the future of Cuba should be in the hands of the Cuban people.

---Original Post---

President Barack Obama has ended what was dubbed the "wet foot/dry foot" policy that allowed Cuban refugees who made it to dry land to remain in the country and pursue residency after one year. (A "dry foot.") A refugee who was caught in the ocean (a "wet foot") would not be permitted to stay. This policy has been in place since 1995.

This policy change was leaked by an anonymous senior administration official.

The official said the U.S. and Cuba have spent several months negotiating the change, including an agreement from Cuba to allow those turned away from the U.S. to return.

The move comes about a week before President Barack Obama leaves office and is likely the last major change he will make to his overhaul of the U.S. relationship with Cuba.

This post will be updated if more details are released.