With only eight days left in office it seems President Obama still has a few tricks up his sleeve. According to a breaking report by AP, White House officials have confirmed that the president will bring an end to the Clinton-era “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which guarantees political asylum and a path to permanent residency for any Cuban who sets foot on US soil.
The current policy, which dates to 1995, was actually a more stringent update to previous policies that allowed any Cuban asylum seeker to stay in the country, whether or not they made landfall on US soil. After President Clinton amended the law, which was firmly rooted in Cold War hostilities between the US and Cuba, would-be migrants picked up at sea by US Coast Guard or customs officials were promptly returned to Cuban territory.
As relations warmed between the two countries under the Obama administration, alarm bells sounded throughout the Cuban community both on the island and throughout Latin America. In response, an unprecedented wave of Cuban immigration descended upon the US’s southern border, while thousands of Cuban migrants making the journey from countries like Ecuador and Colombia found themselves stuck in transit in countries like Costa Rica and Panama.
While “wet foot, dry foot” has presented economically struggling Cubans with a dependable lifeline – and has even helped buoy the island’s flailing economy with a steady flow of remittances – its antagonistic origins in the Cold War tit-for-tat between Cuba and the US has positioned the policy as a thorny obstacle to full normalization between the two countries. While this promises to be a milestone in the Obama administration’s work on that front, it will undoubtedly be met with ambivalence within the Cuban community.