Washington – The United States on Thursday ended a preferential policy toward Cubans who arrive on US soil illegally, saying under most circumstances they now will be sent home rather than allowed to apply for residency.
The change means people who flee the communist country will be treated the same way migrants from other countries are treated.
“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,” the White House said in a statement.
The so-called “wet-foot/dry foot” policy was put in place more than 20 years ago and was designed for a different era, the statement said.
A file photo of Little Havana, Florida, USA, home to many Cuban immigrant residents as well as many residents from Central and South America (Credit Image: © Jose More/VW Pics/ZUMAPRESS.com)
The policy allowed anyone who fled Cuba and made it to US soil to stay and pursue residency, while people stopped at sea were sent back.
The White House called the move an important step forward in President Barack Obama’s effort to normalize relations with Cuba.
Obama re-established diplomatic relations with Havana last year, ending more than five decades of isolation with its Cold War foe.
The Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of Cuban nationals who are sent back, just as it has been accepting the return of migrants intercepted at sea.
The US is also ending a programme that gave preferential treatment to Cuban medical personnel seeking entry to the US.