Obama Administration to end ‘Wet Foot, Dry Foot’ policy for Cuba - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Obama Administration to end ‘Wet Foot, Dry Foot’ policy for Cubans

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The Obama administration is ending a policy, dubbed "wet foot, dry foot," which gave Cuban arrivals to the U.S. residency even if they didn't have visas, the White House announced Thursday.

"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 in a statement.

"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," he said.

The policy change has been in the works as the U.S. and Cuba work to cement changes in the relationship between the two countries. The changes include a path to return to Cuba for those unable to enter the U.S.

The changes also come roughly one week before Obama leaves office. The president made a historic to the island nation last year— the first American president to do so since Calvin Coolidge made the trek nearly 90 years ago.

The wet foot, dry-foot policy was added in a 1995 revision of the Cuban Adjustment Act, the 1966 legislation intended to isolate Cuba, which Obama has worked to eliminate. Cubans who were apprehended in the waters between the two countries, however, were returned to Cuba under the policy.

The policy was designed to prevent mass migrations of Cubans to the U.S., while still recognizing the political ramifications of turning back Cubans, particularly from the Cuban American community where the opposition to the Castro regime has been fervent.

Advocates for ending the policy hailed the administration's move.

"This is a logical, responsible, and important step towards further normalizing relations with Cuba," James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a non-profit group working to end the travel and trade embargo on Cuba said in a statement. "The 'wet foot, dry foot' policy has been an enduring problem that decades of hostility and isolation failed to solve. This change, which has long had strong bipartisan support, would not have been possible without the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba."

But Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who is Cuban American, issued a terse statement in response to the surprise announcement.

"Today's announcement will only tighten the noose the Castro regime continues to have around the neck of its own people," Menendez said.

In addition to ending that policy, the administration is doing away with a 2006 program that allowed medical personnel required by Cuba to study or work in a third country to essentially "defect" to the U.S. Obama said the program contradicts ongoing U.S.-Cuba efforts to combat diseases.

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