The End of the “Wet Foot Dry Foot” Policy: Context

Today, Obama ended our inhumane Cuban migrant policy. The Cuban Adjustment Act, or the “wet foot dry foot” policy, was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson as a way to encourage (or make it easier) for Cubans to become American citizens as soon as they step foot in the States — as they are given refugee status, a green card, and a pathway to citizenship in 2 years. It was (clearly) a move to spite the Castro regime.

It’s called wet-foot-dry-foot because if Cubans are caught in the water, they are turned back to Cuba, and if they make it to land in the States, they are allowed to stay.

As a result — the policy incentivizes thousands of Cubans take to the waters to reach Miami annually, and hundreds die every year in the process. The brain drain, which is a phenomenon in all ‘developing’ countries, intensely affects Cuba because of the (tangible) possibility to become a US citizen in a short period of time. Families are separated, and Cuban citizens who want to travel to the US (but not stay) are denied visas at a higher rate than every other country in the world. (Because the US embassies declare 93% of Cubans to be “intending immigrants”). The Cuban government routinely condemned the law, and it was a hamper to the normalization of US-Cuba relations.

HOWEVER: Ever since Obama announced the decision to normalize relations with Cuba, Cuban emigration to the US has spiked, as Cubans feared that normalization would lead to the end of wet-foot-dry-foot (they were right). Currently there are thousands of Cubans in Central America hoping to make it to the States before the end of the law. Cuba has said they will accept them back in Cuba. But it’s still a pretty complex issue with intense effects on families and thousands of livelihoods — and families will have to decide whether to risk deportation in the US or face an uncertain future back in Cuba.

The end of wet-foot-dry-foot needed to happen — as it was unjust for immigrants to be given privilege over others in order to spite a regime. Additionally, it forced Cubans to risk their lives by offering a Charlie-and-the-Chocolate-Factory-style golden ticket at the end of a 90 mile journey on the Caribbean Sea in a homemade raft. But this whole thing shows that the US government needs to find a middle ground between unequivocally welcoming groups of immigrants in versus labeling human beings “illegals” in order to deport them as soon as possible. Our whole immigration system is unjust — wet foot dry foot was just a part of it.

Long story short: it needed to happen in order to continue normalizing relations with Cuba, hopefully it encourages smart young Cubans to stay in Cuba and start businesses and projects there as opposed to the States, BUT there are VERY real effects on separated families and families currently en route to the States, (of which there are thousands) as they have enormous decisions to make and long journeys ahead.