As it got dark on Thursday evening, Cuban Americans congregated in the light put out by the cafecito window of Versailles, the Cuban café on Calle Ocho, to talk about the sudden end of decades-old policy granting Cuban migrants special status in U.S. immigration.
For almost 22 years, the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” policy allowed Cubans who arrived on U.S. soil without a visa to become permanent residents. Under the policy, if Cubans were apprehended en route – for example, if they were picked up by the Coast Guard while still at sea – they were sent back to Cuba.
Cuban-American Laura Vianello, who said she has lived most of her life in Miami “as an exile,” said the policy encouraged Cubans to risk their lives to come to the U.S., to the detriment her country of origin.
“We have lost many, many young lives,” she said. “We have the best talent lost there in the sea, instead of
fighting for a free Cuba.”
The White House announced the end of “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” by President Obama’s executive order on Thursday night, effective immediately. In a press release, Obama said ending the policy means Cuban migrants will be treated the same way as migrants from other countries.
Juan Peña was drinking cafecitos with friends inside Versailles the night the news broke. The 47-year-resident of Miami, who wears a pin of the American and Cuban flags crossed on his lapel, said the policy change was overdue.
“That law need to be changed anyway, because there are a lot of [people] coming to here that don’t need asylum, they are Castro’s problem – Castro wants to make problems here.” he said. “Obama gives them everything they want, [but] they don’t give anything to the United States.”
To some of Miami’s Cuban-Americans, though, this policy change is part of a history of Obama’s acquiescence to Raúl Castro and his tight control over the island.
“It’s the last concession that Obama had for Raul Castro,” Yasel Benitez said in Spanish. “To gift him this concession of eliminating Wet Foot, Dry Foot is one more way that Democrats are communist, that Democrats are pro-Raul Castro, pro-Castristas,” he said.
Others near Benitez agreed, starting a chant of “Trump, Trump, Trump” while passing cars honked in support.
In addition to the immediate revocation of “Wet Foot, Dry Foot,” the White House also announced the end of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which allowed medical professionals required by Cuba to work outside the island in a non-U.S. country to essentially defect to the U.S.