Obama will end 'wet foot, dry foot' policy for fleeing Cubans

Obama will end 'wet foot, dry foot' policy for fleeing Cubans
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The Obama administration will end the controversial "wet foot, dry foot" policy that allows Cuban citizens who reach American shores to stay in the country. 

President Obama said in a statement that the 20-year-old policy was "designed for a different era."

"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," Obama said.

"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."

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The changes are part of the Obama administration's moves to warm diplomatic relations, which have been tense since America's 1958 embargo on the country. 

"Since I took office, we have put the Cuban-American community at the center of our policies. With this change we will continue to welcome Cubans as we welcome immigrants from other nations, consistent with our laws," Obama said.

The policy effectively allowed Cubans fleeing their country to qualify for permanent residency if they make it to American shores, or with "dry" feet, even if they do not have a visa or legal authorization to visit the country.  

If fleeing Cubans are caught before they land, with "wet" feet, they are sent back. 
 
The policy began in 1995 under President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe magic of majority rule in elections The return of Ken Starr Assault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress MORE as a compromise between the two nations. The American government previously allowed Cubans to resettle in America and become eligible for permanent residence even if they were caught at sea, under the premise that they were fleeing danger in their home country.
 
But critics have pointed to the policy as favoring Cuban immigrants over those from other potentially dangerous countries, as well as incentivizing undocumented migration from the country.
 
Since the Obama administration's warming with Cuba, Pew Research found a surge of Cuban immigration into the U.S.
 
Various news reports from Florida found that Cubans were migrating because they were concerned about the "Wet foot, dry foot" policy nearing its end as part of the administration's more relaxed relationship with Cuba.
 
Obama also announced that he was immediately ending the Cuban Medical Professional Parole program, which essentially encouraged Cubans in the medical field working abroad to defect to the U.S. by allowing U.S. officials to grant visas to doctors, nurses and other medical professionals. 
 
"The United States and Cuba are working together to combat diseases that endanger the health and lives of our people. By providing preferential treatment to Cuban medical personnel, the medical parole program contradicts those efforts, and risks harming the Cuban people," Obama said. "Cuban medical personnel will now be eligible to apply for asylum at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, consistent with the procedures for all foreign nationals."
 
Obama reiterated that "the future of Cuba should be in the hands of the Cuban people."
 
"During my Administration, we worked to improve the lives of the Cuban people - inside of Cuba - by providing them with greater access to resources, information and connectivity to the wider world. Sustaining that approach is the best way to ensure that Cubans can enjoy prosperity, pursue reforms, and determine their own destiny," he said.
 
Updated at 6:20 p.m.