11 Cuban immigrants who are being held in Texas are fighting deportation by alleging that they arrived in the U.S. just before the long-standing ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy. The policy in question allowed Cubans who made it into the country to remain and become legal residents.
Some of the immigrants reportedly entered the U.S. via Mexico through Laredo on January 11 before the immigration policy was rescinded by former U.S. President Barack Obama the following day. Others tried to cross into the U.S. on the morning of January 12 but were scheduled appointments for later that day after the policy officially ended.
Obama announced the end of the policy on the afternoon of January 12 as part of the new normalized relations between the U.S. and Cuba. The change forces Cubans to apply for legal immigration status using the same rules as immigrants from other countries.
“We don’t know if they were doing this on purpose and telling Cubans that came in the day before, in the days that led up to the change, to come on the day of the change because they already knew [the immigrants] weren’t going to be issued permission to enter the U.S.,” said Miami-based attorney Jorge Rivera, who is representing the Cuban immigrants. Rivera argues that the immigrants qualified for entry under ‘wet foot, dry foot’ because they entered the U.S. before the end of the policy was officially announced.
‘Wet foot, dry foot’ was the name given to a revision of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 by the Clinton administration in 1995. Before the revision, Cubans who fled the island and entered the U.S. were allowed to remain in the country and apply for residency one year later.
After the revision, Cubans who were caught on the waters between the two countries (‘wet feet’) were deported back to Cuba or to a third country. Cubans who entered the U.S. on land (‘dry feet’) got a chance to remain in the country and would later qualify for residency in accordance with the 1966 Act. Since the decades-old policy ended, all Cubans who have illegally crossed into the U.S. have been sent back to the island unless they can convince government officials that they have valid humanitarian reasons to be allowed into the country.
Irina Feijoo, the wife of one of the immigrants detained in Laredo, said her husband crossed the U.S. border on the morning of January 12 but was told to come back later that day. As he waited for his appointment with other immigrants, a U.S. official reportedly told them that the ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy had officially ended and they would have to be taken into custody or return to Mexico. Feljoo, 53, who lives in south Florida, told news sources that she’s hopeful her husband and the other immigrants will be released because they “touched American soil” before the policy officially ended.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection released a statement saying the agency is aware of the problem and is “looking into it and will take appropriate action” but it can’t comment on the administrative proceedings of any specific case.