Thousands of Cuban migrants face new legal hurdles as soon as they set foot on US soil

(Photo: Yucatan ahora)

Thousands of Cubans are arriving in the United States every month in one of the largest migrations from the island in decades, but a sometimes overlooked policy change during the Obama era is making it harder and more expensive for many of them to obtain legal immigration status.

In the final days of the Obama administration, White House and Department of Homeland Security officials defended the elimination of a special parole policy known as “wet-foot, dry-foot” (which allowed Cubans who reached land to remain, while sending back those stopped at sea) as a response to increasing migration from Cuba, a way to “equalize” immigration policies and ensure that young Cubans who could be agents of change remained in the country.

At the time, Cuban migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border who got an immigration parole — a document good for one year or longer — were entitled to apply for work permits and could easily file for permanent residence under the Cuban Adjustment Act. The 1966 law allows Cubans who have been “inspected and admitted or paroled into the United States” to apply for a green card after living in the country for at least one year.

Six years later, another Democratic administration is facing an even larger migration crisis, as more than 177,000 Cubans have fled the island for the United States since October, federal data shows. The U.S. Coast Guard has stopped another 5,000 at sea and returned them to Cuba.

And despite past promises by Cuban authorities, the United States still lacks a way to deport thousands of Cuban nationals to the island, especially when they arrive at Mexican border. This has forced Biden administration officials to implement a kind of de facto wet-foot, dry-foot policy: Most people stopped at sea are returned to the island, while those arriving at the border or making landfall in South Florida are allowed in, with the understanding they can claim asylum.


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