Cuban-Americans express thoughts on repealed ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy

MIAMI (WSVN) - Members of the Cuban exile community in South Florida are expressing strong opinions on the newly repealed “wet foot, dry foot” policy, Thursday.

The change will be effective immediately. Any Cuban who tries to come to the U.S. without a visa will be repatriated.

“By making it effective immediately, it’s very important, strategic, moved to ensure that you don’t see a mass migration event take place in the near term,” said Brian Fonseca, a professor at Florida International University.

Since the Obama administration announced the normalizing of relations with Cuba, this repeal has been a big fear for many who reside in South Florida who have family back home in Cuba.

In December of 2014, President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced the beginning of normalizing relations. A fear that the “wet foot, dry foot” policy might end with improved relations between the two nations has since led to an increase in Cuban migrants coming ashore in Florida.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, officials have come in contact with 1,885 Cuban migrants since October 2016. In the preceding year, they came in contact with 7,411 Cuban migrants.

According to a senior administration official, the two countries have been negotiating this policy for some time, which also includes an agreement from Cuba that will allow those who are turned away from the U.S. to be allowed to return to the island nation.

The “wet foot dry foot” policy had previously allowed Cubans who made it to the U.S. by boat or raft to stay here if they made it to dry land. If they were intercepted at sea, however, they were repatriated.

This policy was instituted by President Bill Clinton in 1995 as a result of the mass exodus of Cubans that ended up being housed in Guantanamo Bay. Now Cubans will have to find another way to enter the U.S. — by applying for a visa, for example.

Cuban activist Ramon Saul Sanchez has helped many Cuban migrants settle in South Florida over the years when they arrive on shore.

He fears the effect this change will have on the island nation. “We do not understand why this step has been taken in such an irresponsible way,” Sanchez said, “that could send waves of panic into Cuba. Cubans do not leave Cuba because there is a favorable law in the United States. They leave Cuba because there is an oppressive regime in Cuba.”

There is mixed reaction from Cuban-Americans at Cafe Versailles in Little Havana and Miami Beach.

On Friday morning, some Cuban-Americans continued to express their approval of canceling the policy. “I empathize, I understand,” said Frank Cantero. “I live here in this community. I understand the plight, and I’ve seen the evolution of it, and the evolution of how they’ve taken advantage of our open arms.”

Jannette Guillen understands the differences in the younger and older generations of Cuban-Americans. “A lot of the Cubans — the generations back then — they actually came here and they worked,” said Guillen. “They fought for their freedom. They appreciated the freedom. Versus today, we just come here and think we deserve everything automatically. You want the freedom? Then, work! Have your freedom, but work.”

The buzz at the cafe began yesterday, soon after the announcement.

“It was attacking our young people, especially, and our people because the majority of people who did that [attempted the journey] had a large percentage of failure and lost their lives on the way,” said Jorge Bernal through a translator.

“They can’t let the people return to Cuba because the government of Castro is alive,” said another man. “They killing the people of the United States that return to Cuba.”

Cafe Versailles patron Armando Gutierrez said he agrees with the policy change. “I’m glad. They should stay there and fight to get free, instead of coming here and then do nothing,” he said.

“Another treason of this country to Cuba,” said another man at Cafe Versailles. “Barack Obama, I don’t believe him at all. He’s just a liar and just proposes situations to come closer to Raul Castro.”

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., she said, “In another bad deal by the Obama administration, it has traded ‘wet foot, dry foot’ for the elimination of an important program, which was undermining the Castro regime by providing an outlet for Cuban doctors to seek freedom from forced labor, which only benefits an oppressive regime.”

The White House also released a statement that said in part, “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 of the return of migrants interdicted at sea.”

The action comes just days into Obama’s final days in office.

The end of the policy is a big deal for many, but President-elect Donald Trump has taken a tougher line when it comes to U.S. and Cuba relations. This repeal is something that Trump can undo when he takes office.

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