Ending the Privileged Treatment of Cubans

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.

About Author


Jack, who joined FAIR’s National Board of Advisors in 2017, is a retired U.S. diplomat with consular experience. He has testified before the U.S. Congress, U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform and has authored studies of immigration issues. His national and international print, TV, and talk radio experience is extensive (including in Spanish).


  1. avatar

    this president will not get rid of the cuban adjustment act. anything good for the country, he ***** it up, anything bad for the country is what he is about, so he will keep it! His mind is not with Americans and it shows

  2. avatar

    Final comment. I am by no means advocating for Cuban illegal immigration. All I’m doing is pointing out how we keep forgetting about the forest while concentrating on the trees.

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    P.S. Just another tiny detail about Cuba. It has a population of only 11 million people, compared with Mexico’s over one hundred million. Some folks can’t see the forest for the trees.

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      Only 11 million people in Cuba does not cut it…you are still missing the whole point……u r beyond the forest with the trees………..

  4. avatar

    I hate to say this, but it boggles my mind that we would concentrate on Cubans, people who committ hundreds of times less crimes than Mexicans, who come here and feel totally entitled and babble on about how it was their country anyway and stage huge marches telling the builders of this nation, European and black Americans to go home. Huh. Cubans are basically hardworking and independent folks with no chip on their shoulders, like many other immigrants have. And besides, they don’t have five to ten kids, like other immigrants do and then go on welfare.

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      This act should not be in place, now, no reason for it, times have changed and we don’t want this country over populated with another country’s people for no reason.

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    Rep. David Rivera of Florida had introduction a bill in the House to adjust the Adjustment Act, by it more difficult to shamelessly gain residency. I called to commend his effort, and discovered he had been voted out office, hounded by the IRS, FBI, and CIA. Maybe you just don’t touch the CAA. I know Zoe Lofgren loves it.

  6. avatar

    FAIR has it straight and this has been under the radar for many years………………………………what makes a Cuban so especial or different from any other immigrant……………….it is all about fairness and the Cubans have been treated like royalty so far……………….Rubio will get his pants on fire for this one. No differently regarding illegal immigration since he is the grandson of an illegal. Needless to say, his grandfather deserved a chance for a better life………which I am glad he got. However, Rubio would be in Cuba in a t-shirt and penniless…….the point here………he should stay out of this issue since he reflects such illegal immigration………………………..HOWEVER it can be argued that if he became a Senator any illegal can do the same to contribute to this country………

    • avatar

      Rubio’s parents came here legally. They were not political refugees since they came before Castro, but they had visas.

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        Leland how surprising you can be,,,,,do your research……..his grandfather came here illegally…did you get the point? or you got amnesia…….and completely disregarded this important point………..or you are just turning your head away from this?

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          And the Spanish Came to South and Central America Killing Off the Mayans and Aztecs Legally?

          Give me a break, and give America back is “deserved” national sovereignty, like you would similarly give for Mexico.

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      John, I’ll give you one thing, the Republican Party, of which I have been a member my whole life, is utterly WORTHLESS TO AMERICAN CITIZENS. Never mind asking me about the Democrats, they are hopeless. But the Republican party is now mimicking the Democrat, anti-white party. Cuba was settled mainly by people from Spain who are European. I am now an advocate of a European-American centered party, as being the only hope for this nation. You know, European-Americans, the people that created modern America with blood sweat and tears.

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        Bobby I am the living proof of the English first settlers in the New World…New England as Capt. John Smith explored, named it and wrote about it………I respect your opinion but I believe in a fair system where there is no privilege which in this case the Cubans had the privilege to be the Untouchables………….

        Cubans are mixed with African Americans and Spaniards no differently with the Moors and their history in ancestry………which is different from the Anglo Saxon which are the ones that came here first if you really refer to the original “European ancestry” without mentioning Ellis Island being a major immigration wave YET the 1630 defining us and our system….the City on the Hill was not Reagan’s original speech…it was John Winthrop in the Arabella in 1630 on his way to Salem MA.

        So I am aware and in touch with our reality and our past. Again, my point is it should be fair, and within this phrase Cubans have been given way too much privilege regarding immigration. I do not see too many Cuban immigrants in the scientific world for example or Nobel Prizes…..etc, etc. So if you realize Cubans come from a country that is poor and lack of resources…………..no differently from Mexico. Needles to say they should also have an opportunity but I think it is has been enough and it should be stopped and go behind the lines at this point like everybody else.

  7. avatar

    Notice how every common sense issue is held hostage to “reform”? E verify, strict enforcement of ID fraud, visa overstays, the Cuban automatic entry, nothing can be changed just for it’s own sake. And these same people, who year after year have had the power to change them, then turn around and say our “broken system” can only be made right with an amnesty. And they want to be taken at their word that we will have enforcement in the future? I think not.

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          You claim to be a SW engineer; therefore, use a little bit your critical thinking to at least for the first time in you r life to read about our constitution so that you educate yourself and measure up to being a citizen of our country……you will see you will feel better and understand what The People means……..