Obama's Last-Minute Cuba Change Scrambles Immigration Politics, Disrupts Lives

Eliminating 'Wet Foot/Dry Foot' has been a longtime goal of immigration reformers and restrictionists alike, though Cuban-Americans remain split.


When Castro agrees with FAIR I just do not know what. ||| TeleSUR TV

It's not every day that an immigration decision made by President Barack Obama draws praise both from liberalizers such as Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and restrictionists like the Federation for American Immigration Reform, yet that's precisely what happened after yesterday's abruptly announced policy change to end the decades-old "Wet Foot/Dry Foot" policy of giving Cubans who manage to arrive on American soil automatic residency, access to welfare, and a pathway to citizenship. The White House also terminated the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which had allowed Cuban doctors who are conscripted by their government to work in a foreign country to defect. As Obama worded it in his statement,

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.

FAIR issued Obama a congratulatory press release, saying that "In his final week in office we are pleased to be able to say for once that he has acted wisely." Flake, who has long championed both immigration reform and an opening up of U.S.-Cuba relations (read his interview with Reason on these subjects from a year ago in Cuba), told Politico that "Individuals on both sides of the U.S.-Cuba debate recognize and agree that ending 'wet foot, dry foot' is in our national interest," and added:

It is a win for taxpayers, border security, and our allies in the Western Hemisphere. It's a move that brings our Cuba policy into the modern era while allowing the United States to continue its generous approach to those individuals and refugees with a legitimate claim for asylum.

Jeff Flake and a Cuban, in Havana, one year ago. ||| Matt Welch
Matt Welch

President-elect Donald Trump has yet to weigh in on the proposal, but as I pointed out in an L.A. Times op-ed 11 months ago, he had been critical of Cubans' special immigration status on the campaign trail:

"I don't think that's fair. I mean why would that be a fair thing?" Trump responded [to a question from the Tampa Bay Times]. "I don't think it would be fair…. You have people that have been in the system for years [waiting to immigrate to America], and it's very unfair when people who just walk across the border, and you have other people that do it legally."

In later interviews he was more non-committal, saying he needed to consult more with Cuban-Americans. And what are those emigres and their families saying? As with many aspects of U.S.-Cuba policy, the reaction is mixed, though largely sorted along partisan lines.

For example Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who had previously introduced legislation changing Cuba policy to require that immigrants prove they are political refugees ("We have people living in Cuba off Social Security benefits," he said while running for president. "They never worked here….This is an outrageous abuse"), was nevertheless largely negative about Obama's move, because it's part of a Washington-Havana rapprochement that Rubio despises:

"While I have acknowledged the need to reform the Cuban Adjustment Act for some time now, the Obama administration's characterization of this change as part of the ongoing normalization with the Castro regime is absurd," Rubio said on Thursday. "It is in fact President Obama's failed Cuba policy, combined with the Castro regime's increased repression, that has led to a rise in Cuban migration since 2014."

That last bit is certainly true, though Rubio left out two other important factors: Many Cubans now have more money to travel (thanks to the U.S. easing on remittances, and the Cuban easing on private-sector activity), and Raul Castro lifted his dictatorship's longstanding exit-visa requirement. Still, the sharp spike in Cuban immigration across the Mexican border the past two years has been an advertisement for the unintended consequences of oftentimes arbitrary, country-by-country immigration micromanagement from Washington.For instance, a Sun-Sentinel investigation in October 2015 found that Wet Foot/Dry Foot was indeed leading to the kinds of welfare-state abuses that Rubio, other elected Cuban-Americans, and immigration restrictionists have all vowed to combat:

Cubans' unique access to food stamps, disability money and other welfare is meant to help them build new lives in America. Yet these days, it's helping some finance their lives on the communist island.

America's open-ended generosity has grown into an entitlement that exceeds $680 million a year and is exploited with ease. No agency tracks the scope of the abuse, but a Sun Sentinel investigation found evidence suggesting it is widespread. […]

The U.S. has continued to deposit welfare checks for as long as two years after the recipients moved back to Cuba for good, federal officials confirmed.

Of course, unintended consequences can flow in the opposite direction as well: As this Washington Post analysis argues, the human result of the new rules—which were effective immediately; click here to read about the last Cuban admitted, and here to hear from those who didn't make the cutoff—will be to ratchet up the degree of difficulty in crossing the border, and exacerbate an already groaning illegal immigrant/asylum-seeking burden:

[Cubans] will probably do what tens of thousands of Central American migrants do now: wade across the Rio Grande, wait for the Border Patrol vans to arrive, and ask for asylum, citing a fear of persecution if sent home.

Unlike migrants from Mexico, the U.S. can't quickly turn them back. They must be detained, processed and have their claims adjudicated. In theory, this should happen quickly. In reality, it often takes years.

There is a basic fairness/equality rationale for Obama's restriction that makes intuitive sense: At this point, why not treat migrating Cubans like Venezuelans? Particularly if you can find a way from shipping political dissidents back into the arms of their persecutor. But coupled with the incoming Trump administration's planned crackdown on illegal border crossings, tightening of refugee screening, and reductions in legal immigration, the demise of Wet Foot/Dry Foot is likely to drive migrants into ever-more-dangerous black markets, and add massive stress on any section of U.S. immigration policy that looks like a loophole.

As ever, the best way to reduce illegal immigration is to increase the legal stuff. But that's a lesson the new administration will likely never learn.

NEXT: More Americans Are Stuck In Place: New at Reason

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  1. Maybe because more than half of them happen to be rapists and drug dealers as well. We need a wall between the Florida Keys and Cuba.

    1. Maybe a moat… with sharks….

    2. Can we put the wall on the south coast of mainland Florida instead? The Keys are weird. Even for Florida they’re weird. Plus Key West once jokingly seceded from the US so now we can hold them to it.

      1. The Keys are weird.

        The War on Six-Toed cats continues.

        1. These masturbation euphemisms are getting pretty abstract, and a little disturbing.

    3. If those are the Cubans that Trump says “just walk across the border”, I wouldn’t be so sure a mere wall can stop them.

      1. Wall, monitoring, snipers, drones, drones with missles, mass deportation with horrible conditions and problem solved. They will all leave and stop coming on their own. You build a camp and say you will rot here in your shit and everyone elses shit until you go on a bus which could be days to months and if you come across illegally you may or may not be shot/blown the fuck up. You give them 12 months to leave and make a few very good examples and most your work is done.

        1. lol, apparently SomeGuy fails to see any factual problem with a contention that Cubans “just walk across the border”.

          Joke’s on you, SomeGuy.

          Also, you’re reprehensible.

    1. *ponders narrowing gaze, instead shrugs and thinks, its Friday, what the Hell and begins applauding*

  2. As I said in the earlier post, Democrats love Immigrants as long as they vote Democrat. Just like they love minorities as long as they vote Democrat. Cubans, Vietnamese, Indians, nah go fuck em. Payback for Florida voting for Trump.

    1. Lot of Florida Cuban Republicans have been barking about the welfare-abuse aspect of the former policy, as the post indicates.

      1. Are you insinuatin’ that Obama was also concerned about welfare abuse?!

    2. I don’t disagree with your overall point, but I’m a little puzzled by the example of Indians. They are one of the most strongly Democratic demographics in the US. Even Vietnamese Americans, it seems, have turned against the GOP in recent years.…..ald-trump/…

      1. eh, I have to believe it has a lot to do with the constant hammering by the Democrats on the GOP as the party of white dudes and evangelist nutjobs. Particularly where the youth are concerned.

        1. The Republicans don’t do themselves a lot of favors on that front either.

      2. Hindus for Trump was a thing for a while there.

        The Republicans are caricatured as racist whites every day of the week in the media. It’s not a surprise if this influences minorities who aren’t aligned historically with one particular party, especially recent arrivals.

        1. Blaming the GOP’s poor performance with all these demographics as being solely the fault of Democratic propaganda is as bad as the Dems blaming their poor performance with certain groups (e.g. rural and/or working-class whites) entirely on the Republicans tricking them and/or on them being hateful bigots.

          1. I don’t disagree. I just think the Democrats are better at indoctrination thru the media and school systems.

    3. You put your dry foot in, you put your wet foot out
      You raise your hand for Democrats and shake it all about
      You do the racial grievance dance and turn the state around
      That’s what it’s all about!

  3. Was this an attempt to stop the flood of Islamic terror from Latin nations?

  4. At this point, why not treat migrating Cubans like Venezuelans?

    Why not treat Venezuelans like Cubans? They too are trying to escape a socialist hell hole.

    1. Why not just treat them like the people they are? Immigration politics is the worst kind of identify politics. Talk about putting people in groups.

      1. I think you should donate to my charity, The Human Fund.

        It’s money for people.

        1. Are you a Greendale College graduate, too?

          GO HUMAN BEINGS!

        2. I only donate to the Humane Society and the ASPCA.

          1. I give to End Literacy Now every year.

            1. Taxonomy, how does it work?

                1. Way to put taxes into groups!

                  Somewhere, somehow, Lois Lerner is furiously masturbating to this euphemism. With a strap-on.

                  1. Why would she need a strap-on to masturbate?

                    1. Her penis is too raw?

                    2. Why would she need a strap-on to masturbate?

                      Koskinen-induced, inverted penis entry envy. For visual reference, let Teh Innertoobz by thy guide…

              1. Taxidermy, how does it work?

  5. I don’t think it would be fair…. You have people that have been in the system for years [waiting to immigrate to America], and it’s very unfair when people who just walk across the border, and you have other people that do it legally.

    I’ve got to agree with that. A Cuban walking over to the US obviously has unique talents that they could use elsewhere.

    Of course, most of the rest of the potential immigrants aren’t going to be imprisoned, tortured, or murdered when they’re sent back. So there’s that.

    1. Hey, what kind of idiot would want to flee a workers’ paradise? Only getting what’s good for them.

      1. No one has ever explained to me why people are fleeing free healthcare. Certainly not Eleanor Clift.

        1. “This medical care is terrible! And such *small* portion allotment!”

  6. The long-time American policy was that people fleeing Communist regimes were legitimate refugees and sending them back would be cruel and possibly lethal.

    Being a Communist himself, Obama was offended and went ahead and fixed that policy.

    1. ^This.

      He’s done a lot of spiteful shit but this is a new low even for him.

  7. Call me a hopeless anti-Communist romantic, but just about anything that makes those commie fucks in Havana happy can’t be good.

    1. and it is exactly what the fucking commies wanted.

      According to a senior administration official, the two countries have been negotiating this policy for some time, which also includes an agreement from Cuba that will allow those who are turned away from the U.S. to be allowed to return to the island nation.…..olicy.html

      1. includes an agreement from Cuba that will allow those who are turned away from the U.S. to be allowed to return to the island nation

        “Allowed.” They will be “allowed” to come back to Cuba. ALLOWED.

        1. I wonder how forgiving the Raul’s government is to Cubans who have dared to steal property belonging to the regime, i.e. themselves.

          1. I bet they’ll get free housing and meals (occasionally) for years to come.

            1. So, they’ll just be treated like everybody else in Cuba?

              1. They might get a tad more supervision.

    2. I really can’t wait for the day that god-awful regime collapses – of course hopefully in a peaceful (for the population at large, I don’t care if the ruling elites get the Mussolini treatment) manner that results in a relatively free state replacing it rather than another brutal dictatorship.

      When that happens, I fully expect plenty of lefty tears, probably even more than when Fidel died.

      1. What’s the plan when Castro the 2nd dies anyway? Who’s his successor? I don’t think they’re planning on suddenly having an election.

        1. Fidel’s brother Dennis.

          1. Then Duane.

          2. “Hola. Soy Fidel, este es mi hermano Darrell, y este es mi otro hermano Darrell.”

        2. Usual, I’d think – Politburo factions start plotting and one prevails by some means, putting their leader in charge. Much how old USSR and China did their transitions from Strong Man rulership.

          1. Yes but I mean, what are the factions/likely leaders of future Cuba? I’m too ignorant of modern Cuban domestic politics to know.

            1. Who the fuck knows? It’s not like bigger, more relevant Politburos were generally understood in the past (hence the phrase “Kremlinologist”), and they tend to keep their internal policies internal. Especially when you have such dominating figures like Castro brothers, it’s a fool’s game trying to predict what will happen and who will prevail – it might be the Second Secretary, it might be someone not even most Cubans heard of. Shit, Army could take over because why not?

            2. I asked my (Cuban emigre) coworker this earlier. He didn’t have a good answer either.

        3. You know who is about to be available?

    3. Exactly.

      For the sake of better relations, these fuckers would have tossed escaping East Germans right back over the Berlin Wall.

  8. When everyone agrees, i can only assume its a horrible thing.

    Also = i think its reasonable to assume that *anything* being done in the last few days of a presidency is being done because they didn’t want to deal with potential political repercussions before

    1. ^this^

      why now? Bad politics and a lame duck can do a lot of damage.

      1. agreed.

        maybe its like Corn Ethanol (very barely) = bad law that really does no good, but which no one wants to repeal because it has political costs.

        so if it gets done in the last days of an admin, everyone cheers because “the other guy took out the trash”. And no one else has to pay the price.

        still, i always default to “Scumbags gonna scumbag”

  9. I can’t believe Trump would do this to poor refugees!

  10. Where is amsoc to explain that fleeing Cubans just need a bit more “convincing” until they understand how much better their country is than ours

    1. He couldn’t stop jerking it to videos of Obama’s farewell speech, and is now in the hospital for dehydration.

    2. Where is amsoc

      Masturbating furiously while reading all the articles on the topic. He’ll be around to crow in PM Links, I’m sure.

    3. In the past he’s indicated that he believes that Cuban emigrees are gangsters, drug dealers, and rapists, so presumably he supports any penal measures taken against them and their families by either government.

  11. Now that we have agreed to return escaping Cuban ?migr?s to Cuba and cease giving them special access to our country, what are we getting in return? Will the Cubans cease harboring convicted cop killers? Are they going to reimburse the owners of property they appropriated?

    1. what are we getting in return?

      That’s not how Obama negotiates with hostile nations.

      1. Yeah, that usually goes more like “Here’s everything you asked for. No need to thank me.”

        1. It works so well, TEAM RED gave him not one, but *two* Omnibus bills in the name of, “bi-partisanship.” And all the reciprocation that floweth in return. One has to marvel at such negotiation skill and brinksmanship….

        2. He’s the James Dolan of politicians

    2. Supposedly Myer Lansky’s grandson is asking the Cuban government for reparation over the Riviera.

  12. I have always believed that if those who escaped from Cuba stayed there, the Castros would have been gone a long time ago.

  13. Like I said, I would urge Trump to suspend all of Obama’s last-minute executive orders (to coin a phrase) “until we find out what’s going on”). If any of these orders is actually a good idea, then we simply delay implementation until we can confirm that it is, in fact, a good idea.

    Obama doesn’t have the benefit of the doubt here. He’s almost certainly dropping orders whose revocation would cause the maximum fuss and backlash.

    And in the case of this Cuban order, we can reasonably say that Obama hasn’t developed a sudden concern for border enforcement and stopping welfare abuse.

    It’s straight-up political payback to Cuban-Americans for voting Republican.

    Instead of dealing with Cuban issues issue by issue, why not negotiate a treaty with the Cubans dealing with all the issues in contention between Our Two Great Nations?

    While that treaty is in negotiation, don’t give the Cubans any unilateral concessions. It might help to have a President who is accustomed to making deals.

    1. Also, a treaty needs a 2/3 vote in the Senate, so that Cuban-Americans have more leverage than in the case of a series of executive orders.

      1. The Cubans can’t just do to Obama what they did to JFK? Or is Ted Cruz busy that day?

    2. While that treaty is in negotiation, don’t give the Cubans any unilateral concessions.

      I hope you mean, the Cuban government.

      1. I used what could be considered an unfortunate shorthand.

        Yes, I mean the Cuban govt.

        1. This policy is a particularly good example of the difference between a concession to the Cuban government (shipping their escaped subject back to them), and a concession to the Cuban people (a free pass on our immigration laws).

    3. “I would urge Trump to suspend all of Obama’s last-minute executive orders (to coin a phrase) “until we find out what’s going on”).”

      I have two suggestions:

      1) Why does the old President get ten weeks for mayhem? Shorten up the time until inauguration.

      2) Why does the President have so much discretion on this anyway? Making the rules of naturalization is a power of Congress listed in the Constitution in the same place as the power to declare war.

      “It’s straight-up political payback to Cuban-Americans for voting Republican.”

      Yeah, if Obama didn’t have any concerns about how the decision would impact the outcome in Florida, then why wait until after the election to do it?

      He’s afraid of what might happen to the Democrats in Florida if, like after the Berlin Wall came down, there’s a flood of new Cuban immigrants.

  14. “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. “

    In addition to whatever other justifications, we should consider the fact that Barack Obama has shown himself to be a vindictive SOB, and if his primary motives were simply to punish the Cuban-American community for being Republican and because Hillary lost Florida, that wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

    I doubt the Democrats’ call for amnesty for illegal aliens is completely unrelated to their expectations that amnestied immigrants are likely to skew for Democrats at the voting booth either.

  15. The greatness that is Obama is obviously fulfilling a request by the Cuban government. I wouldn’t surprised if this was condition laid by the Castros in exchange for “thawing” relations from the very beginning. By the time the Cuban community (who didn’t help out his good pal Clinton in Florida) and even pro immigration allies can blast him, he’ll be just about out of office.

    Let’s try to make sense of this – He would be fine with admitting thousands of refugees from the most radicalized parts of the world. Birth tourism from Mexico and China, that’s all good and dandy. Ending birthright citizenship would be racist! But a week before leaving office he denies path to citizenship to a handful of Cubans who flee their nation.

    Did I mention that Cubans didn’t abandon Trump in Florida? Obama is a VINDICTIVE ASS. He gave up on TPP and the pipelines when public opinion turned against it in the waning days of his office. He would against gay marriage NOW if 60% of voters were still against it.

    Trump is going to create Muslim registries and strip Americans of citizenship! Oh, no! That’s so much worse than Obama’s kill list and executions of citizens without trial. The feds have been snooping on mosques for years now. I will vote for Trump (he won’t be good) again to punish the liberal hypocrites who kissed Obama’s ring all the while he did most of the things they accuse Trump of.

  16. Look, commies have to make other commies happy, that’s the most important part.

  17. Good to see Reason finally found a way to support immigration restriction as long as it involves licking Castro’s taint.

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