According to a Reuters news analysis the privileged status of Cubans receiving automatic refugee treatment when they arrive illegally in the United States may be a target for change in the current immigration reform debate. The article suggests that the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) may be up for revision. That act allows Cubans to get “green cards” one year after arrival in the United States if they pass a background check. That law is a holdover from the Cold War and applies only to Cubans.
What has triggered the rethinking of the special treatment of Cubans is the Cuban government’s recent relaxation of its passport policy to make it easier for Cubans to travel outside the island. That implies the probability that the United States will see an influx of Cubans arriving and asking for permanent residence.
Ending the CAA has been advocated by FAIR for years and is even more urgent now. But, there is no reason to wait for a change in the immigration law. The key provision that gives privileged treatment to Cubans is an Executive Order last changed by President Clinton. When a Cuban arrives at a U.S. port of entry or is found already in the United States after being smuggled in, the immigration authorities are under orders to ignore the lack of a visa to legally enter the country and to issue an entry document. This policy is known as the “wet-foot-dry-foot” policy. It gets its name from the fact that if Cubans are intercepted by the Coast Guard before getting to the United States, they can be sent back to Cuba unless they can make a convincing case that they will be persecuted if sent back home. Most fail that test. That’s the “wet-foot” part of the policy. If they touch land, they are home free. That’s the “dry-foot.”
The fact that the practice is based on an Executive Order means that it can be changed by a new order from the President. If the Cuban is no longer waived into the country, the only way to avoid getting sent back to Cuba is to argue that they would be persecuted if sent back to Cuba like those intercepted before getting here. If not found to have a valid claim to persecution if sent back to Cuba, they can be sent back before the one-year residence provision of the CAA enters into the equation.