The administration also revoked the Medical Parole Program, a policy which made it easy for Cuban medical professionals who are now working in third countries to move to the U.S. Cuban officials had been pressuring the U.S to cancel that program for years, claiming it was "draining" the country's talent. Now, those Cubans who run afoul of the Castro regime will find it harder to to receive the protection they need from the U.S. and if sent back, are likely to suffer even more.
The executive order states that Cubans trying to get illegally into the U.S. and does not qualify for human aid will be subject to be returned according to the US laws.
The 20-year-old policy allows Cuban migrants who reach USA soil to become legal permanent residents after a year. It allowed Cubans who managed to step foot on American soil to stay in the country without visas.
At the end of 2014, President Barack Obama first announced that after five decades of tense relations between the United States and Cuba, the two nations were committed to restoring diplomatic ties.
There has been a surge in Cuban immigration since the US renewed diplomatic relations with Cuba in July 2015, with many fearing it would be their last chance to automatically gain legal status in the United States.
"While we have welcomed normalizing relations with Cuba, the violation of basic human rights remains a reality for some Cubans and the wet foot/dry foot policy helped to afford them a way to seek refuge in the United States", said Bishop Joe Vasquez, chairman of the Committee on Migration. The foreign ministry said in a statement it put an end to "preferential" treatment for Cuban migrants that served as a magnet for them to trek through Central America.
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As relations have thawed, Cubans have increasingly fled to South Florida and other parts of the United States over concerns that "wet foot, dry foot" would likely come to an end.
Bernie Sanders wrote a letter to Obama, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and ICE director Sarah Saldaña, earlier this month making a plea to adjust immigration policies targeting the undocumented immigrants. The wet foot, dry foot policy was one of the changes that many believed could happen. More than 46,000 Cubans without visas attempted entry in the 2016 fiscal year, many along the southern border and twice as many as in FY2014. "It's a move that brings our Cuba policy into the modern era while allowing the United States to continue its generous approach to those individuals and refugees with a legitimate claim for asylum." according to U.S. today. It permitted any Cuban national who reached the U.S.to stay, while repatriating those caught in the roughly 90 miles of ocean between the countries.
The Cuban government praised the move, describing the agreement as "an important step in advancing relations" between the United States and Cuba.
Panama began humanitarian airlifts in May that sent more than 3,100 stranded Cubans north to Mexico at the US border.
The policy, in place for more than two decades, has applied exclusively for Cubans. The move a week before Obama leaves office is a continuation of Obama's attempt to normalize rerlations with Cuba after he made a historic visit to the island a year ago.