No more Cuban rafters, Coast Guard says
BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES
For decades, dramatic images of Cubans trying to reach the United States
on decrepit boats made of all kinds of materials shocked many within the
South Florida community. On the island, families waited desperately for
news on whether loved ones had made it to shore.
In April, the Coast Guard did not intercept a single vessel ferrying
Cuban migrants — the first time in seven years this has occurred.
"April was the first month in seven years where we didn't have one Cuban
migrant, not one," Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, Commandant of the U.S. Coast
Guard told The Wall Street Journal. "On a typical day at this time last
year, we would probably pick up anywhere from 50 to 150 Cuban migrants."
The remarkable change is due to a drastic measure taken during the last
days of the Obama administration in negotiation with the Cuban
government: the elimination of an immigration policy for Cubans known as
"wet foot, dry foot."
The policy, implemented by President Bill Clinton in 1995 following a
massive exodus by sea known as the "balsero crisis" allowed most Cubans
to stay in the U.S. if they touched land.
Since then, thousands of islanders fled by sea to try their luck, a
number that increased after former President Barack Obama and Cuban
leader Raúl Castro announced the restoration of diplomatic relations in
In 2016, as many anticipated a change in U.S. immigration policy, 5,396
Cubans were intercepted by the Coast Guard and more than 56,000 Cubans
arrived in U.S. territory through different routes — mainly across the
border with Mexico.
"Many times we encountered boat loads with migrants: it's their fourth,
fifth, sixth attempt, we would apprehend them and we would send them
back," Zukunft said, referring to Cuban migrants intercepted at sea
before the end of the wet foot, dry foot policy. "They figured maybe one
of these days they'd win the lottery and they'd go 'feet-dry.'"
All of that changed on Jan. 12, when Obama announced the end of that policy.
"Clearly it was the repeal of the wet foot, dry foot policy with Cuba,"
that brought an end to interdictions at sea, Zukunft said.
"With that policy being removed," he said, even if migrants land on a
remote U.S. island, "you're going on a boat and you're going back to Cuba."
The trend is similar on the border with Mexico. In April, only 191
Cubans arrived at the border and were considered "inadmissible" by the
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) office. In February and March the
number was even lower, 86.
Follow Nora Gámez Torres en Twitter: @ngameztorres
Source: U.S. Coast Guard says Cubans are no longer fleeing the island by
sea | Miami Herald -