51 Cuban Immigrants Land in Florida … in One Day

Cold War-era 'wet foot, dry foot' policy allows thousands to pour into U.S.

by Kathryn Blackhurst | Updated 19 Dec 2016 at 7:51 PM

A total of 51 Cuban migrants sailed into the Florida Keys Sunday morning in three groups. These are the latest beneficiaries of the protections offered under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act’s “wet foot, dry foot” policy.

Eleven Cubans arrived in the upper Keys in Tavernier, while 22 sailed north of Key West and 18 landed on Big Pine Key. Under the 50-year-old policy, the immigrants are allowed to stay in the U.S. because they successfully managed to set foot on dry land. But if these Cubans had been apprehended on water itself, their journey would have ended quite differently.

“On an American public assistance check … you can live very, very nicely in Cuba. And that’s an abuse that needs to be [shut] down.”

“What we need to resume with Cuba is a normal immigration status so that illegal immigrants are sent back,” Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, told LifeZette. “And we’ve sent thousands of them back already whom we’ve caught at sea who didn’t get this benefit of the wet-foot, dry-foot thing.”

At the center of the Cuban Adjustment Act is the reality that Cuban migrants receive “special treatment” in their quest to enter the U.S. because of their country’s past during the Cold War era.

“The day before yesterday, when those 51 people weren’t there, was just as bad. It’s just that this is the kind of news event that pushes it into your face,” Krikorian said. “The broad issue is whether a quarter of a century after the dissolution of the Soviet Empire, which Cuba was part of, is there any reason to even have a Cuban Adjustment Act?”

Under President Obama’s administration, U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations have continued to thaw and become more “normalized.” Although Cuba still endures a repressive dictatorship, the country certainly is not alone.

“The underlying problem is that this is a 50-year-old law that was passed at the height of the Cold War,” Ira Mehlman, the media director for the Federation of American Immigration Reform, said. “Given the reality that it’s 2016 going on 2017, it simply doesn’t make any sense to continue it, and it’s a law that could be repealed.”

Now that relations with Cuba are “normalized,” Mehlman noted the hypocrisy the U.S. carries out when it continues to allow Cubans to enjoy special immigration privileges, while other foreigners who hail from countries with repressive regimes cannot enjoy them.

“It is special treatment based on nationality. It’s time that we institute policies that make sense for the present, not based on the past,” Mehlman said. “Now that we have reestablished diplomatic relations, we ought to use whatever leverage we have to encourage political and economic reforms in that country. But there’s no sense in perpetuating a policy that gives special treatment to people in Cuba.”

To make matters even worse, the Cuban Adjustment Act — which had good intentions in 1966 — has been the subject of egregious abuse when Cuban immigrants misuse the U.S. welfare benefits they are given.

"People are coming here, putting in their requisite year under the Cuban Adjustment Act, and then turning around and moving back [to Cuba]," Mehlman said. "The fact is that on an American public assistance check … you can live very, very nicely in Cuba. And that's an abuse that needs to be clamped down."

The Sun-Sentinel reported in October 2015 that growing numbers of Cuban immigrants are cashing in on U.S. welfare and "making a mockery of the decades-old premise that they are refugees fleeing persecution at home."

"Some stay for months at a time — and the U.S. government keeps paying," the Sun-Sentinel reported. "Cubans' unique access to food stamps, disability money and other welfare is meant to help them build new lives in America. Yet these days, it's helping some finance their lives on the communist island."

Noting that most of these Cuban immigrants are "just illegal aliens" and not political dissidents fleeing from oppression, Krikorian said Cubans have been abusing the Cuban Adjustment Act because they know they can better their economic lots by taking advantage of the United States' "soft touch."

Indeed, during the years under the Obama administration's leadership — or lack thereof — illegal immigration has been surging. In November alone, roughly 1,574 illegal aliens were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border per day in the fifth straight month of escalating numbers, according to a Monday report from MRC-TV. U.S. Customs and Border Protection also noted in a report last week that it had apprehended 47,214 illegal aliens in November and 46,191 in October as the surge continues to grow.

Underneath all those issues lurks the Cuban immigration conundrum that has been plaguing the country for decades and shows no signs of decreasing.

"It's long past time to end this special right for Cuban illegal aliens," Krikorian said. "It's appalling. And it's only because of this ridiculous immigration law that probably made sense 50 years ago but doesn't anymore."

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