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Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot Policy Stays In Place For Now

Nancy Klingener

The Cuban immigration policy known as "wet-foot, dry-foot" — where migrants who make it to U.S. soil can stay, while those intercepted at sea are returned to Cuba — remains in place after President Obama's announcement of normalizing relations with Cuba.

"Essentially everything remains the same. Our missions and operations here in the Southeast are unchanged," said Lt. Cmdr. Gabe Somma, spokesman for the Coast Guard's District 7 in Miami.

The policy was instituted in 1994, after tens of thousands of Cubans took to the Straits on makeshift rafts and other dangerous vessels. And they continue to make the crossing, smuggled in powerboats and crowded onto small vessels made in Cuba known as chugs.

According to the Coast Guard, 3,977 crossed or tried to cross the Straits in the last fiscal year, which ran from Oct. 1, 2013 to Sept. 30, 2014. Since Oct. 1 this year, 809 have attempted the crossing. The Coast Guard did not have the information on how many of those were successful in reaching the U.S. and how many were returned to Cuba.

After Obama announced last week that the U.S. would normalize relations with Cuba, the Coast Guard issued a release warning would-be immigrants against the crossing.

"These trips are extremely dangerous," Somma said. "Migrants or individuals located at sea may be returned to their country of origin."

Somma said the Coast Guard had not seen a noticeable increase in crossings since Obama's announcement. And he said the Coast Guard was ready to respond if the situation changes.

"We’re still out there," he said. "We’re always out there. We’re going to continue to be out there."

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