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Dispatch from Havana: Six Cubans on the end of ‘wet foot, dry foot’

Teo Escobar and Jorge Guillen are working with The New Tropic through the the Cuban Journalism Fellowship, an initiative of the International Center for Journalists with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The fellowship seeks to strengthen ties between Cuban independent journalists and their counterparts in the United States. 

One of former President Barack Obama’s last acts in office was putting an end to the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” policy that made it possible for millions of Cubans to gain legal residency in the U.S. just by setting foot on American soil.  

With the intent to learn more about the Cuban people’s opinion towards this change, we went out to the street to ask people for their opinions on the policy chance and what should happen to the thousands of Cubans stranded en route to the U.S.

Monica Hernandez, university student, 28:

“I do not know much about politics, but it seems to me that on the one hand it has disadvantaged those who wanted to reunite with their family or simply migrate for economic reasons.

But, on the other hand, I see the change as positive because many people have died trying to migrate.

I know people who have gotten stuck on their way – coworkers and their children who are going through that right now. But go figure, that’s the way life is.

I think that this new president is very unpredictable and with him, anything can happen. So, I don’t know.

Ramon Villareal, custodian, 49:

I am in agreement that they have eliminated the law, but I also do not think that the Senate will reapprove it, because it was eliminated because of the normalization of relations between our two countries.

Those who are stuck in transit in other countries, in my opinion, it is their responsibility. They left Cuba knowing the risk that they were taking, that you cannot place the blame on anyone else. They have to assume responsibility because you cannot accuse the Cuban government or a foreign government of a decision that they themselves made.

When a Cuban citizen arrives in the United States, you can see the good part of the law, because the right thing to do to is to give protection to a person who is arriving from a new country. What do I see that is not right? That the law would benefit solely Cubans. If they would have generalized it for everyone who arrived in the United States, that would be the more right thing to do. Because there are many people who have spent  20 or 30 years in the United States in hiding, working under the law, suffering abuses in their workplace and they getting paid unequal wages.

Isabella Soto, university Student, 18:

The elimination of the law was unexpected, especially from President Obama. I thought that Trump would have done it, but not that Obama would do as he was ending his term. It was a surprise.

I give my condolences to all the people who were in transit, those who set out on a boat or those who are in other countries. There are many people who have left everything here, they sold everything they had to start their journey towards the United States.

I think that the people who have had problems with the law or who have committed crimes should not be accepted in the United States. It is a country where many people enter every day and it does not have any reason to accept them. But the people who all they want is to have a better life and are going to work in the United States should be allowed in.

All in all, it was a way to escape, that is now closed and only God knows what will happen here, if anything happens. One never knows what will happen here, because people are saying that something will happen, but everything remains the same.

I really don’t know if this is good or if it is bad, but we did see it coming. It did not make sense with this new scenario of normalization of relations. But, I do not know if it is a good thing.

Rafael Granado, university student, 19:

I honestly think that it’s good that they eliminated the law, because many people were leaving illegally, putting their lives at risk, whether it was leaving by sea on a boat or crossing the border where they were exposed to human trafficking and death. By getting rid of this law, they limit this process of illegal migration and they lower the risks that the Cuban migrants were taking.

If I were in the skin of those who are now in transit, in other countries, I would not like to be sent back to Cuba. My goal would have been to arrive in the United States. But if the goal is to protect the lives of those people and reduce their risks, then I would agree with them being deported back to Cuba.

That these types of law remain in place only undermines the process of normalization relations with the United States, as is the case with the embargo and the Cuban Adjustment Act. I think Trump can definitely eliminate the Cuban Adjustment Act. Trump sees Cuba as a gold mine and if he is smart I think he will take advantage of it.

Yadier Bernal, Self-employed, 33:

I do not understand, I do not know why they got rid of  it. Perhaps it is because of the Cubans who have arrived. That law was the best option for Cubans who could not get a visa.

There are many who are stuck in transit and I think they should not be turned back, because their dream was to leave and they should stay in the United States. I have friends who are in Brazil and do not know what to do. I think they should stay living and working in that country where they are now.

I’ll speak more honestly. Man, I wanted to leave. I wanted to leave for my two children, and now I can not. Now I have to wait and see if I can get a visa.

Lorena Galan, self-employed, 22:

I think if they eliminated the law, it was for a reason. And I hope that they will actually give visas, as they say. Many people are denied tourist visas. But I also believe that if this country does what is supposed to do, nobody would  leave Cuba. People would travel and then I am sure they would come back.

One goes over there to start a new life and help those who they have left behind. Most Cubans just want to get to see a different place. But we are not given the opportunity to see a different place. So we are always looking for a way to reach that dream.

There are many who have sold everything here in search of that dream. It is not fair that after doing that and finding yourself halfway there, you are turned back. They should leave them there, because it is very sad and very hard to turn back under those circumstances.

I hope that what they told us on the news that they were going to let 20,000 people leave the country every year is true. My mom has an interview next week in the U.S. Embassy and I hope that she is given a visa.