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Cubans bemoan end of ‘wet foot, dry foot’ immigration policy

Cubans bemoan end of ‘wet foot, dry foot’ immigration policy
ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON and JENNIFER KAY
Associated PressJanuary 17, 2017

MIAMI (AP) — In a hotel room in suburban Miami, Luis Alberto Rodriguez
wept when he heard that a government policy granting residency to Cubans
who arrive on U.S. soil was ending. That means it could take two years
or more before his wife and two children still in Cuba can legally join
him here.

Rodriguez arrived in Laredo, Texas, on New Year’s Eve, a journey that
took him through 10 countries. He had hoped his family would be able to
follow shortly afterward, maybe flying to Mexico before walking across
the border under the “wet foot, dry foot” policy that sent back Cubans
intercepted at sea but gave those who reached land an automatic path to
legal residency.

“It was exhilarating finally making it onto U.S. soil, and then a
whirlwind of emotions days later,” when news came that the policy would
end, Rodriguez said. “It was such a shock. … I don’t know when I will
see them. “

On Thursday, a little more than two years after Cuba and the U.S. began
re-establishing diplomatic relations, President Barack Obama decided to
end the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, moving yet another step closer to
normalizing ties that had been frozen for nearly a half-century. The
change forces Cubans to follow the same rules as immigrants from other
countries, formally applying for legal immigration status and waiting
their turn behind a long list of people who applied before them.

Cuban leaders were not the only ones irritated by the “wet foot, dry
foot” policy. It also rankled an increasing number of U.S. elected
officials, who accused some Cuban immigrants of abusing their privileges
by claiming benefits under federal aid programs even if they returned to
Cuba to live. Millions of dollars were defrauded from Medicare that way,
they said.

Cubans’ special status also angered immigrants from other countries,
including those who felt they faced the same kinds of political
challenges at home that Cubans had faced under the late Fidel Castro and
his brother Raul Castro. Moreover, they said, many Cubans, particularly
in recent years, went to the U.S. primarily for economic opportunities,
not because of persecution.

“For the longest time, Cubans have had all the privileges here,” said
Honduran immigrant Mario Hernandez as he walked outside a busy bookstore
in Miami with his wife, daughter and grandchildren. Some Cubans have
become millionaires, Hernandez said.

“No one enjoys as many advantages. But hopefully there will be no more
of that.”

Haitian community leaders unsuccessfully lobbied the U.S. government for
years to extend a similar “wet foot, dry foot” to Haitian migrants
fleeing poverty and political persecution. While both groups made
perilous journeys to Florida in rafts and rickety boats, risking
possible death or capture by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Cubans who made
it to land were assured of a warm welcome. Haitians, on the other hand,
had to go straight into hiding — if they weren’t caught and detained first.

“Now the boat we’re in is getting tighter, because now our Cuban
brothers and sisters are getting into the same boat,” said
Haitian-American community organizer Sandy Dorsainvil.

Cuban immigrant Rodriguez said he’s resigned to wait for his family to
navigate the backlog of U.S. immigration applications rather than have
them risk deportation or even death if they try to follow him into the
country illegally.

“I don’t want them to risk their lives in any way,” he said.

Immigration advocates, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and
Service Employees International Union officials said the Obama
administration’s decision to end “wet foot, dry foot” was disappointing
and would only serve to make all immigrants more vulnerable.

“Now they’re going to add to the rolls of the undocumented, and that’s
not good for them and not good for our community,” said Randy McGrorty,
executive director of Catholic Charities Legal Services.

In the Florida Keys, law enforcement officials said they expect to
encounter fewer Cuban migrants now that there’s no immediate benefit to
reaching land. And Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay said Cubans who do
attempt landing in the island chain may start treating his deputies
differently.

“Once they made it to land, it was open arms and smiles and taking
pictures,” Ramsay said. “They were different from migrants from other
foreign countries who, when they hit the shore, the first thing they
want to do is vanish into society. They’d see a patrol vehicle and
they’d try to run, flee and hide.”

A surge in Cuban migrants — fearing the end of the U.S. policy — began
in December 2014, when Washington and Havana began re-establishing
diplomatic relations. The exodus created problems in Central America,
and the Coast Guard increased its patrols in the Florida Straits,
Atlantic and Caribbean because of the spiking number of Cubans taking to
the sea.

Nearly 200 Cubans have come ashore just in the Keys since Fidel Castro’s
death on Nov. 25. As of Monday, 1,893 have attempted to reach U.S. soil
by sea since the fiscal year began Oct. 1, according to Coast Guard
figures. More than 7,400 Cubans were intercepted at sea in the one-year
period that ended Sept. 30 — a 60 percent increase from the 4,473
tallied the previous year. The number who made it ashore without
alerting authorities or who died at sea is unknown.

Rodriguez is worried about Cubans who started out when the “wet foot,
dry foot” policy was still in effect and are now stranded at sea, in
Central America or still waiting to leave Cuba after selling their
belongings to pay for their journeys.

“All our brothers who are still traveling through land and waters,
hoping to make their lives better, I feel saddened that they will not
make it,” he said.

Source: Cubans bemoan end of ‘wet foot, dry foot’ immigration policy –
www.yahoo.com/news/cubans-bemoan-end-wet-foot-dry-foot-immigration-204003473.html

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