In the last few weeks of his term, former President Barack Obama has moved rather nimbly for a lame duck. It's unclear how much of Obama's maneuvering is binding on President Donald Trump.
Yet Trump should let stand one of Obama's midnight decrees: the repeal of the "wet foot, dry foot" policy for Cubans seeking entry into the United States.
While Cubans who were or feared being persecuted began coming to the U.S. almost immediately after Fidel Castro took control, President Lyndon Johnson upped the ante by signing the Cuban Adjustment Act in November 1966. The law expedited permanent residency (green card) status for Cubans who fled to the United States. President Bill Clinton added a new wrinkle in 1995 when the law was amended to implement the "wet foot, dry foot" policy. In short, Cubans who were intercepted at sea were returned; those who got at least "one foot" on U.S. soil were permitted to stay.
Obama, however, ended that last week. The decision essentially means that Cubans will be treated like all other immigrants seeking to enter the U.S.
While we are sympathetic to those Cubans still on the island and longing for a freer, more prosperous future, we see three reasons why this policy had to go.
First, wet-foot-dry-foot blatantly discriminated against immigrants from other lands who faced similar or worse persecution and hardship than that experienced by Cubans under Castro. Granting Cuba special status made us hypocrites before the rest of the world.
Secondly, in recent months, the South Florida Sun Sentinel has explored how some crooked Cubans entering America have exploited U.S. laws and goodwill. The paper has reported that the Cuban Adjustment Act allowed Cubans seeking political asylum into the U.S. without background checks and permitted them to return freely to the island without jeopardizing their immigration status here. As a consequence of those advantages, some unsavory characters posing as refugees have swiped hundreds of millions of dollars by stealing from U.S. businesses or swindling our social welfare system.
Finally, it signals to Cubans remaining there that they are responsible for the situation in their homeland. Just as Americans and citizens of other nations fought for their freedom and the power of self-rule, it is time for Cubans to do likewise. It may be bloody, and it may not be quick or easy, but they should not rely on other nations, particularly this one, to overthrow their repressive government. While we should help everyday Cubans as much as possible — and more trade and interaction with Americans will certainly facilitate that — history has shown that our early strong-arm tactics and later open-arms asylum policies have not done the job Cubans should do for themselves.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD