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For Cuban migrants, it no longer matters whether they have 'wet feet' or 'dry feet'

History was made back in December 2014 when the U.S. and Cuba agreed to reestablish diplomatic ties, effectively ending decades of Cold War hostilities. Indeed, since the Obama Administration's move toward normalizing relations with the regime of President Raul Castro, trade and travel restrictions have been lifted, communications have been improved, and the foundations for nascent business developments have been laid.

Interestingly enough, it now appears as if officials with the two countries have also been quietly discussing other matters, including immigration. That's because just last week, the Obama Administration announced the immediate end of the wet foot, dry foot policy along with several other major changes to immigration laws affecting those seeking to emigrate from Cuba.

For those unfamiliar with wet foot, dry foot, it's a policy that dictated that Cuban migrants apprehended on the 90-mile stretch of water between their home nation and Florida had "wet feet," and therefore must return home, while Cuban migrants who actually set foot on U.S. soil had "dry feet," and were therefore allowed to stay.

The advantages of having dry feet were considerable, with migrants immediately eligible for legal permanent resident status and able to gain instant access to a host of government benefits, including work permits and a path to citizenship.

In addition to ending wet foot, dry foot, the U.S. government also ended its medical parole program that permitted Cuban medical professionals to enter the country, and reinstated the ability of customs officials to use expedited removal programs for Cuban migrants taken into custody at ports or near borders.

For its part, Cuba agreed to allow citizens turned away from the U.S. to return home provided less than four years have passed from the time they left to the start of deportation proceedings in the U.S. It also agreed to honor an agreement made in 1984 to take back 2,700-plus people, mainly those with criminal records, who arrived on U.S. shores during the Mariel boatlift of 1980 and were never granted citizenship.

While the abrupt end to wet foot, dry foot caught many off guard, the Obama administration indicated that advance warning could not have been provided, as it would could have resulted in a flood of people seeking to gain entry to the country prior to any set deadline.

As for the reason for the controversial change, officials indicated that the policy was no longer necessary in light of the improved relations with Cuba and unfairly granted Cuban nationals, many of whom were seeking entry for purely economic reasons, preferential treatment over other refugees seeking to escape horrific circumstances.      

It will, of course, be interesting to see whether the policy is reinstated after the Trump Administration takes over the White House. Stay tuned for updates …

If you or a loved one has questions or concerns relating to any immigration matter -- from citizenship to deportation -- consider speaking with a skilled legal professional to learn more about your options.

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