What do changes to immigration policy mean for Cubans?

In my column This week's Consulta Migratoria® explains the changes to the immigration policy for Cubans announced today by President Obama's administration.

Each immigration case is different. Please consult with an immigration attorney for personalized legal advice before beginning any proceedings.

This is the column:

President Barack Obama's administration today immediately eliminated the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, which for more than 20 years allowed thousands of Cubans to remain legally in the United States if they managed to set foot on the mainland and subsequently obtain permanent residency within a year, thanks to the Cuban Adjustment Act.

The change means that as of today, undocumented Cuban immigrants will no longer have preferential treatment to enter the United States. They will be treated the same as immigrants from other countries, making immigration policy equitable for all, said Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in a press teleconference held the same day as the official announcement, which I had the opportunity to participate in.

According to Secretary Johnson, the U.S. and Cuban governments had been working on a bilateral agreement for months that would allow the return of deported Cubans and those intercepted at sea.

The Department of Homeland Security also terminated the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which authorized the legal entry into the country of thousands of Cuban doctors.

President Obama, in a press release, said these measures are "important to normalize relations with Cuba and establish greater consistency in our immigration policy."

He also stated that "Cubans who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian assistance will be subject to removal, in accordance with U.S. law". 

Immigration policy - including asylum - will be the same for everyone

According to government authorities, over the years the number of Cubans who have fled their country because of oppression or political persecution has decreased and the number who migrate to the United States for economic reasons has increased, as do most immigrants.

Secretary Johnson said that Cubans who qualify will have the opportunity to apply for asylum, but they will not receive preferential treatment. If they present themselves at the border or port of entry to request asylum, they will have to go through the same process as an immigrant from Guatemala or El Salvador, for example.

The Cuban Adjustment Act and other special programs for Cubans are still in force.

The measures announced today do not eliminate the Cuban Adjustment Act. This can only occur through an act of the U.S. Congress or if the President of the United States determines that a democratically elected government in Cuba is in power.

These measures will also not affect the family reunification program or the visa lottery for Cubans.

In addition, Cubans who are inspected and admitted by a U.S. customs officer may continue to take advantage of the Cuban Adjustment Act.

For example, Cubans entering the United States on a B-2 tourist visa or under the Visa Waiver Program could apply for permanent residency, without having to prove persecution in Cuba, if the person simply remains within the United States for one year after being inspected and admitted by a customs officer.