There’s no solution to the half-century old Cuba problem that will satisfy everyone, but we strongly believe President Obama made the right decision to end the troubled “wet foot, dry foot” policy.
For years, the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board has called for an end to a well-meaning but dangerous and unfair policy, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996.
Next, we urge Donald Trump not to reverse Obama’s decision when he takes office next week. Trump is eager to undo many of Obama’s executive actions, but this is one that falls in line with Trump’s stance on immigration — even though he will undoubtedly receive pushback from hardliners in his own party.
We feel for Cubans who want to make a better life for themselves in the United States. We also feel for Haitians, Venezuelans and other immigrants from impoverished countries who desperately want to escape to our country.
But it made no sense to have a policy that encouraged citizens of one country to take life-threatening trips to our shores.
Cuban immigration to the United States has skyrocketed in the last few years with anticipation that Obama could end a policy that gave Cubans a special right to remain in our country if they reached our land.
In 2016, 54,000 Cubans migrated to the U.S., according to the Obama administration. That’s an increase from 40,000 in 2015. In 2011, only 7,759 entered the U.S.
For years, you’ve seen images of Cubans arriving on flimsy rafts. Many didn’t make it.
But you probably haven’t seen the thousands of Cubans who are taking dangerous treks through Latin America and Mexico, with the hopes of eventually making it to the United States. Some have fallen prey to human traffickers. It’s counterproductive to encourage them to make these deadly escapes.
We made a special status for Cubans two decades ago so they could escape political persecution in Communist Cuba. In reality, most of the Cubans who have made it to the U.S. in recent years are seeking to improve their economic standing, including medical professionals. Obama also announced the end of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which gave temporary legal status to those people but threatened depleting Cuba of doctors.
We’re disappointed the Cuban government continues to imprison dissidents and restrict personal freedoms to their people. But it doesn’t mean we have any less sympathy for citizens of other Central and South American countries with corrupt governments in disarray.
The next challenge for the Cuban people is fighting for change from within. Fidel Castro is dead and Raul Castro won’t be around forever. Obama was right to open up new relations with Cuba — we can help the Cuban people by showing up to their country and spreading democracy, even if the money in the immediate future lands in the pocket of their unjust government. The worst policy is keeping the island isolated.
Now, the decision is in the hands of Trump, who has positions on the Cuban government and immigration that could contradict each other. Trump has threatened a hardline stance on the Cuban regime and their treatment of dissidents. But if he stays true to his campaign promises on immigration, he won’t reverse Obama’s decision to end the wet foot, dry foot policy.
Trump won the GOP nomination partially on immigration. It’s hard to imagine Trump believes Cubans should be given a free pass to enter the United States without going through the same channels as other immigrants.
That is exactly what he said a year ago, when the Tampa Bay Times pressed him on the wet foot, dry foot policy and he replied: “I don’t think that’s fair,” noting that other people wait years to immigrate here.
Trump’s in a tricky spot. If he reverses Obama’s decision, he reneges on his own campaign promises and contradicts his own beliefs on immigration. If he sticks with Obama’s decision, he angers politicians like Sen. Marco Rubio, who blasted Obama’s decision after it was announced Thursday.
Rubio acknowledged the wet foot, dry foot policy has “led to growing abuses” because of welfare aid. He called for an end to the policy last year. But on Thursday he blasted Obama’s decision because it would return all Cubans, including those politically persecuted, back to the island.
Trump’s national security adviser K.T. McFarland is a hard-liner on foreign policy and transition official Mauricio Claver-Cuoron is a top pro-embargo activist, according to Politico.
There are supporters and opponents of Obama’s decision on both sides of political aisle.
Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, told Politico that ending the wet foot, dry foot policy “is in our national interest.” Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, disagrees and said in a statement that “we should never deny a Cuban refugee fleeing a brutal regime entry into the United States.”
We also shouldn’t encourage Cubans to flee their country and face a much worse fate on the deadly voyage. Obama made the right call and Trump should wisely let it stand.
— The SunSentinel of Fort Lauderdale, Jan. 13, 2017