By: Camilo Valencia, J.D. Candidate, May 2017, St. Thomas University School of Law.

The Obama administration made it an objective to restore diplomatic relationships with the Island of Cuba. During Presidents Obama’s last few years in office, we witnessed his cabinet ease restrictions on the island in an attempt to create more economic opportunities between the US and Cuba.[1] An although we have seen the end of the Obama era, President Obama did not leave the office without first making a surprising, yet predictable move, which will impact the lives of millions of individuals in the US and Cuba.

President Obama ended the longstanding preferential immigration treatment for Cubans, known as “wet foot, dry foot.” The Wet foot, dry foot policy was instituted by President Bill Clinton in 1955, under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1964.[2] The purpose of the immigration policy stemmed from the idea that many individuals who fled the Cuba were political refugees.   However, during the last few decades the purpose for Cubans migrating to the US has shifted for economic freedom rather than political. Providing a reason to the end the preferential immigration treatment for Cubans and stating, “fair is fair.”

How the end of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy affects both Americans and Cubans abroad is a scenario that only time will tell. For now, Cubans will be required to follow the traditional immigration process to be able to come to the US, such as applying for asylum, visa lottery, or by relative petition. However, it is predicted that many Cubans will revert to the traditional process of immigration and that is by sea. On March 12, 2017, human traffickers were caught by federal authorities about 500 yards off the gated Ocean Reef community off northern Key Largo. More than thirty (30) Cuban migrants were on board. “This is the first large group of migrants to attempt a landing in the United States since the Obama administration ended the so-called “wet-foot, dry-foot” immigration policy in January.”[3]

[1] See Isabela Cocoli, Obama Moved Aggressively to Restore Relations With Cuba, voa news (Nov. 26, 2016, 9:18 AM), http://www.voanews.com/a/obama-restored-relations-with-cuba/3612438.html (stating the US has restored diplomatic relations with Cuba on July 20, 2015, but has maintained the commercial, economic, and financial embargo against the communist island). The restoration of diplomatic relationships and ease of restrictions is an attempt to expand scientific, humanitarian, trade and commercial opportunities for Cuba. Id.
[2] See Raul A. Reyes, Opinion: Ending ‘Wet Foot, Dry Foot’ Policy on Cuba Long Overdue, nbc news (Jan. 17, 2017, 5:14 AM), http://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/opinion-ending-wet-foot-dry-foot-policy-cuba-long-overdue-n706861 (explaining that under the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, Cubans who were apprehended at sea were turned back to Cuba, while those who made it to US soil were allowed to stay and apply for permanent residency after a year).
[3] David Goodhue, Traffickers carrying 30 Cuban migrants halted by the feds off Key Largo, Miami Herald (Mar. 12, 2017 8:31 AM), http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/immigration/article138043748.html.