In an attempt to further normalize U.S.-Cuban relations, the Obama administration has announced the end to two special immigration policies directed toward Cuban migrants. The first of the scrapped programs allowed Cuban nationals who made it to dry land in the U.S. to remain and apply for permanent resident status without receiving a visa. The so-called, “wet foot, dry foot” policy began under the Clinton administration in 1995 as a means of addressing the wave of Cuban migrants picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard while attempting to reach Florida. The program, however, has been heavily criticized by the Cuban government for encouraging outward migration from the island country, and has been criticized by other foreign governments for granting preferential treatment to Cuban migrants. In addition to eliminating the path to legal resident status for Cuban migrants on U.S. soil, the Department of Homeland Security also eliminated an exemption for Cuban nationals from expedited removal proceedings when apprehended near the border or at ports of entry.
The other special Cuban immigration program that the Obama administration eliminated is the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which allowed Cuban medical professionals to defect and apply for parole into the United States. Under the program, the U.S. admitted Cuban doctors, nurses, paramedics, physical therapists, lab technicians and sports trainers who worked for the Cuban government in a third country and would not otherwise have been eligible to receive a Cuban exit permit. The Cuban government has long criticized the program for depriving the country of its trained medical professionals.
Because both programs were eliminated by agency action, it is unclear what impact the upcoming change in administration will have on U.S. immigration policy and other recent changes to US-Cuban relations.