Last week, President Obama issued the first major change in U.S. immigration policy towards Cubans in over 20 years. On January 12, 2017, President Obama announced that the 1995 immigration policy designed specifically for Cuban nationals, known as “Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot”, would be abolished immediately. That means that Cuban nationals arriving at air, sea and land ports would now be subject to expedited removal (they were not previously) and that the Cuban government has agreed to review Cuban nationals with final orders of removal on a case by case basis to determine if they would allow them to be deported to Cuba. In addition, Cubans who arrive in the U.S. without visas and without having been admitted or paroled will not receive special parole consideration. They will be considered for parole like any other foreign national. Parole is the primary way that Cubans become eligible to adjust status in the U.S. and get their green cards.
This is a major, major change to how the U.S. government treats Cuban nationals coming to, or attempting to come to the United States. No longer will they be welcomed into the air, sea and land ports, automatically given parole into the U.S., and a year and day later, be allowed to apply for adjustment of status under the Cuban Adjustment Act.
Just for background, the 1995 Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot Policy, enacted by President Clinton, restricted Cuban nationals, who would be paroled into the U.S. and allowed to apply for green cards, to those who actually made it to U.S. soil before immigration officers caught them. Previously, Cuban nationals caught on boats or rafts in the Florida Straits, on their way from Cuba to the U.S., were brought to the U.S. and paroled into the country, rather than being sent back to Cuba. Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot greatly limited the number of Cuban nationals who made it to the U.S.