Obama ends decades-old policy for Cuban migrants

Update: January, 13/2017 - 11:00
US President Barack Obama has scrapped rules dating back to the 1960s which allowed those fleeing Cuba a fast track to US citizenship. — AFP/VNA Photo
Viet Nam News

WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama on Thursday ended a decades-old policy that allowed Cuban migrants who arrived illegally on US soil to stay.

In one of his final acts before leaving the White House, he scrapped rules allowing those fleeing Cuba and reaching American territory a fast track to permanent resident status.

Obama said the move would "bring greater consistency to our immigration policy".

"Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with US law and enforcement priorities," he said in a statement.

The Cuban government welcomed the decision on Thursday, calling it "an important step forward in bilateral relations".

Preferential immigration treatment for Cuban immigrants enticed millions to flee the island, fueling economic stasis and a severe "brain drain".

Meanwhile in the United States, the growing Cuban-American population become a potent political, cultural and economic force.

There are around 1.8 million Cuban-Americans today, including two Republican 2016 presidential candidates, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

Cuban issues stand at the forefront of politics in the crucial swing state of Florida, making politicians extremely wary about revoking the policy and lifting economic sanctions against Havana.

Passed in 1966, the Cuban Adjustment Act has offered any citizen of Cuba admission and permanent residence in the United States after spending one year in the country, with no yearly quota on immigrants.

However, then-president Bill Clinton decided in 1995 that Cubans intercepted at sea would be sent home under the policy Obama scrapped today, which became known as "wetfoot/dryfoot".

Today’s decision means normal immigration rules will also apply to Cubans arriving at land borders.

Obama said the decision was another step toward normal relations.

"By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries."

"The Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of Cuban nationals who have been ordered removed, just as it has been accepting the return of migrants interdicted at sea," he added.

"With this change, we will continue to welcome Cubans as we welcome immigrants from other nations, consistent with our laws." — AFP