President Obama is ending a longstanding immigration policy that allows any Cuban who makes it to US soil to stay and become a legal resident, the AP reports. The repeal of the "wet foot, dry foot" policy is effective immediately, according a senior administration official. The decision follows months of negotiations focused in part on getting Cuba to agree to take back people who had arrived in the US. The official said the Cubans gave no assurances about treatment of those sent back to the country, but said political asylum remains an option for those concerned about persecution if they return. Ending a policy that has allowed hundreds of thousands of people to come to the US without a visa aligns with Donald Trump's commitment to tough immigration policies.
The "wet foot, dry foot" policy was put in place in 1995 by President Bill Clinton as a revision of a more liberal immigration policy. The US was reluctant to send people back to the communist island then run by Fidel Castro, and the Cuban government also generally refused to accept repatriated citizens. The Cuban government has in the past complained bitterly about the special immigration privileges, saying they encourage Cubans to risk dangerous escape trips and drain the country of professionals. The official said that in recent years, most people fleeing the island have done so for economic reasons or to take advantage of the benefits they know they can receive if they make it to the US. (Read more Cuba stories.)