The Coast Guard announced that it did not intercept any vessel ferrying illegal Cuban immigrants to the U.S. in April, The Wall Street Journal reports. It was the first month without any such incidents in seven years.
Images of Cuban immigrants trying to reach the U.S. on dingy boats made of all kinds of materials have shocked people for decades, but no more. The dramatic drop in the number of Cubans attempting the journey is due in large part to new policies set by the Obama administration.
“April was the first month in seven years where we didn’t have one Cuban migrant, not one,” Adm. Paul F. Zukunft told WSJ. “On a typical day at this time last year, we would probably pick up anywhere from 50 to 150 Cuban migrants.”
Zukunft traced the decline to Obama’s late-term policy change toward Cubans fleeing the island as well as President Trump’s tough stance on illegal immigration.
Just days before leaving office, Obama rescinded the “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy, which allowed Cubans who reached U.S. soil to remain in the country while those caught at sea were sent back to the island. The policy only gave this special privilege to Cubans trying to flee the Castro regime.
Under “wet foot, dry foot” Cuban immigrants could enter the country without a visa and apply for permanent residence after one year. It was a controversial policy put in place by the Clinton administration in 1995 as a revision of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966.
Since the implementation of “wet foot, dry foot,” thousands of Cubans have fled the island by sea to try their luck. According to Zukunft, some Cubans who were intercepted at sea (“wet feet”) attempted the journey several times with the hope that they would one day reach U.S. land and become “dry feet.”
“Many times we encountered boat loads with migrants: it’s their fourth, fifth, sixth attempt, we would apprehend them and we would send them back,” Zukunft said. “They figured maybe one of these days they’d win the lottery and they’d go ‘feet-dry.’”
The number of illegal immigrants caught at sea has been steadily rising since 2011. There was a sharp spike in 2016, likely in anticipation of the changes to U.S.-Cuba immigration policy, and the Coast Guard intercepted 5,396 Cubans. An additional 56,000 Cubans entered the U.S. through other routes, primarily across the U.S.-Mexican border.
“Numbers across the board are way down, at sea and even on the land border,” Zukunft said. “Clearly, the policies that are out there right now, especially if you have a criminal record, you’re going back to your country of origin. I think that sent a pretty strong signal up and down the food chain that you aren’t going to get a welcome mat if you gain illegal entry into the United States.”
The trend appears to be similar on the U.S.-Mexico border. In April, only 191 Cuban immigrants tried to enter the U.S. by crossing from Mexico. They were all considered “inadmissible” by the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) office.