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As wet foot/dry foot U.S. policy ends, Cuba ponders what Trump may do

As wet foot/dry foot U.S. policy ends, Cuba ponders what Trump may do
Rick Jervis , USA TODAY 3:32 p.m. ET Feb. 13, 2017

HAVANA – While President Donald Trump’s Cuba policy remains in flux,
Cubans on the island have mixed feelings about whether the “wet foot/dry
foot” policy that governed U.S./Cuba relations since 1995 should be

President Obama abruptly reversed the policy before leaving office last
month, taking away the automatic amnesty granted to Cuban migrants who
reached U.S. soil.

Some Cubans said the policy was one of the few pathways they had to a
better life. Other people on the island applauded the end to a rule they
say motivated thousands of Cubans to attempt a perilous seaborne journey
to the U.S.

“That law killed a lot of Cubans,” said Daniel Sosa, 34, a taxi driver
in Havana. “They should’ve [ended it] a long time ago.”

Trump has said he will review U.S. agreements with Cuba, but hasn’t
commented directly on the wet foot/dry foot policy. He recently signed
an executive order demanding the detention of those who enter the U.S.
illegally until their cases are decided in court.

The wet foot/dry foot policy allowed most Cuban migrants who reached
U.S. soil to stay and become legal permanent residents after one year.
Obama’s Jan. 12 reversal of the policy was seen as the latest step in
normalizing relations between Washington and Havana that began in 2014.

Cuban officials have long decried the policy, saying it motivates Cubans
to take the dangerous overseas journey to the U.S. on homemade rafts.
The U.S. embassy in Havana awards about 20,000 visas to the U.S. each year.

As relations between both countries warmed last year, thousands of
Cubans rushed to enter the USA. Overall, 56,406 Cubans entered the U.S.
via ports of entry in fiscal year 2016, more than double the number who
arrived in 2014, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.

Since the change in policy, hundreds of Cubans have been turned back at
U.S. border crossings and at least 172 Cuban nationals are in U.S.
detention facilities awaiting rulings in their removal proceedings,
according to federal immigration statistics obtained by El Nuevo Herald.
The outcome of their hearings will be critical for the future of other
Cubans seeking asylum when they reach the U.S., it said.

As the U.S. and other countries decide what to do with the hundreds of
Cubans now stranded throughout Latin America, Cubans on the island
appeared split in how they felt about ending the policy.

Mexico deports Cubans; first time since wet foot/dry foot repealed
Enriquez Martinez, 41, a public worker, said he has many friends who
migrated to the U.S. illegally. Some got there, others were returned to
Cuba. He said a lot of Cubans he knew were upset that Obama revoked the

“It was the only path Cubans had to freedom,” he said. “There’s no
freedom here. There’s nothing for us here.” Martinez then offered an
oft-repeated sentiment heard among some Cubans: “Everyone hopes
[President] Trump reinstates that policy.”

Renewing it may prove tricky. The policy change was part of a bilateral
agreement between the U.S. and Cuban officials, said Frank Mora,
director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida
International University.

The law acted as a safety valve for Cuban officials who could allow
those residents with strong opposition to the government to leave, he
said. But with more than 70,000 mostly-younger Cubans leaving each year,
the island faces the loss critical workforce and an aging population.

“Why did they give up that safety valve? That’s a tough question,” he
said. “But they had a pretty serious demographic problem on their hands.”

Daniel Suarez, 32, said he knows of scores of friends and family members
who had left for the U.S. to take advantage of the policy. Some of them
left by sea and didn’t make it, he said. Many Cubans he know aren’t
happy with the policy reversal.

“We feel like we’re suffocating here,” Suarez said, as he chatted with
friends on a public bench in Central Havana. “The people who leave risk
their lives for a better life, overland or sea.” He added: “They need to
reinstate that law.”

Roberto Tornes, 24, a barber in Old Havana, said he agreed with ending
the policy. Many of his friends are split in their opinion – some wanted
to see the policy ended, others would like to see it continue. Tornes
said he has no plans to leave, but if he would it would be through legal

“It doesn’t affect me either way,” he said.

On the other end of the island, Rafael Reyes, 43, a music professor in
Santiago de Cuba, said he knew of a group of people who recently left
for Puerto Rico, unhappy with Cuba’s current state of affairs and hoping
to reach the U.S. He expects they’ll be returned to Cuba.

Echoing Mora, Reyes said removing the policy will make the Cuban
government face many of its critics.

“The people are upset” with the policy reversal, Reyes said. “They’re
not hitting the streets in protest, but they’re not happy.”

Source: As wet foot/dry foot U.S. policy ends, Cuba ponders what Trump
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