In a significant step towards normalising relations with its former Cold War foe Cuba, the outgoing Democratic Party government in US has ended a two-decade-old immigration policy that allowed Cuban migrants who reach US soil illegally to stay and become legal residents.
“The Department of Homeland Security is ending the so-called ‘wet-foot, dry foot’ policy, which was put in place more than twenty years ago and was designed for a different era,” US President Barack Obama said in a statement Thursday.
The repeal of the longstanding immigration policy, coming in the last days of the Obama administration, is effective immediately.
He said the US is taking important steps to normalise relations with the communist nation and to bring greater consistency to its 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.
The decision follows months of negotiations focused in part on getting Cuba to agree to take back people who had arrived in the US.
“By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries,” he said adding, “wet foot, dry foot” policy mostly allows Cubans who reach US soil to stay in the country.
The move by the outgoing US President, whose tenure marked the de-freezing of ties with Cuba, has drawn praise from the other as well.
In a statement read on state television, the Cuban government called the signing of the agreement “an important step in advancing relations” between the US and Cuba that “aims to guarantee normal, safe and ordered migration.”
The decision is expected to weigh upon the strategy of President-elect Donald Trump, who had vowed to renegotiate ties with Cuba.
“Cuba and the United States will work to further discourage unlawful migration to the United States and promote bilateral cooperation to prevent and prosecute alien smuggling and other crimes related to illegal migration,” Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said.
(With inputs from the PTI)