For decades, Cuban citizens fleeing the Communist-controlled island were granted special treatment by the U.S. Under the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, a Cuban migrant able to set foot on American soil would be automatically granted residency. Only those migrants interdicted at sea were returned.
With the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries and the signing of a “Joint Agreement” of January 12, 2017, that has largely changed. Today, an increasing number of illegal Cuban migrants are being deported. A report in the September 6 edition of the Tampa Bay Times says that as of late April, more than 37,000 Cubans in the United States were facing orders of removal. So far, the number of those actually returned is small but growing. The government has returned 743 this fiscal year, compared with only 160 in the first year of the Trump administration.
The January 2017 Joint Agreement–signed by outgoing President Obama–gives Cuba the option of rejecting certain deportees, a practice they have historically followed, for a couple of reasons. One, most fleeing Cuba have held anti-communist opinions, and, two, many were elderly and represented a drain on the island’s medical resources. Now, the Cuban government seems to have revised its policy, though experts are uncertain as to why. Last week, Cuba accepted 120 deportees on a single flight.
One South Florida immigration attorney was perplexed by the change. “Something has changed the mind of the Cuban government,” he said. “We just don’t know exactly what.”
In a September 9 post, we observed that the government of Ecuador had recently revised a policy opposed by the U.S., prompting speculation about secret diplomatic initiatives. Could Cuba’s change of heart be the result of something similar? Who knows.
For more, see the Tampa Bay Times.