In the beginning of 2017, U.S. President Barack Obama announced the end of the longstanding “Wet foot, dry foot” policy, which automatically granted Cuban migrants the ability to stay in the United States, according to a White House press release. The Cuban-American community, many of which live in South Florida, are at odds over the decision, according to news reports.
The Policy Explained
The policy received its name as a result of the 1995 revision during the Clinton administration of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 (CAA), which essentially stated that any Cuban fleeing to the U.S. would be able to enter and allowed the ability to pursue residency a year later. If a Cuban arriving by sea without a visa was caught by the U.S. with “wet feet,” he or she would be sent back to the island while those who arrived on land with “dry feet” would be allowed to enter the nation. Cubans seeking asylum in this fashion would qualify for expedited legal, permanent residency and, eventually, permanent U.S. citizenship. The policy has been controversial for years as a result of the seemingly preferential treatment given to Cubans as opposed to other immigrants seeking political asylum in America.
The Effects of the Repeal
The President announced the repeal of this law would be effective immediately. According to the President, Cuban migrants will now be treated under the law in the same manner that immigrants from other countries are treated by the U.S. The Chicago Tribune reports that the Cuban government has agreed to take back migrants if the time from migration to deportation is less than four years. Political commentators believe President-elect Trump may undo President Obama’s repeal as soon as he enters the White House.
Impact on Law Firms
After a second democratic president made changes to the CAA – first Clinton, now Obama – the legal effects of the change will likely be seen soon. Undocumented Cubans will be held at South Florida’s Krome Detention Center, instead of sitting at one of the many Cuban cafes lining the streets of Miami on Calle Ocho in historic Little Havana. Wet foot, dry foot gave Cubans an automatic presumption of government persecution and the presumption that asylum would be granted.
The likelihood of a fleeing Cuban’s asylum petition being granted will become significantly lower – a Haitian immigrant has a 1 in 50 chance of successfully proving the need for asylum. Consequently, the influx of fleeing Cubans will also likely decrease as a result of the change and law firms that take CAA clients.