WASHINGTON – Fidel Castro’s death has renewed doubts about the Cuba policy that President-elect Donald Trump will adopt after promising to “roll back” the measures of his predecessor, a move that – experts say – could change U.S. immigration policy vis-a-vis the island.
During the primaries, Trump was the only Republican candidate to support President Barack Obama’s opening toward Cuba, but in his quest for votes in Florida in the general election campaign, he promised that he would overturn the executive action measures taken by Obama if the Castro regime did not restore freedoms on the island.
Reince Priebus, who will be Trump’s chief of staff, insisted on Sunday that the magnate will definitely undo the policies Obama implemented to foster rapprochement with Havana if Cuban authorities do not take steps to release political prisoners and end the repression of freedoms.
According to experts consulted by EFE, there is one area where Trump would have a special interest in making changes, given his hardline stance on immigration during the campaign: the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy.
That measure, within the Cuban Adjustment Act, accords Cubans a privilege not given to any other group of immigrants: the chance to receive permanent residence in this country a year after arriving, even if they enter the United States illegally.
Trump does not like unrestricted immigration and that is what that policy allows, Robert Muse – an expert on U.S. law vis-a-vis Cuba – told EFE.
William LeoGrande, an expert on Cuba at American University, agreed, telling EFE that doing away with the “wet foot, dry foot” policy and deporting Cubans who arrive here illegally could be Trump’s first change affecting Havana.
The policy, as it stands now, is for U.S. authorities to return Cubans intercepted at sea back to the island but admit those who manage to make it to U.S. soil, and that is something that Trump could reverse “overnight” and without any complications, Muse said.
The measure was adopted in 1995 as an amendment to the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, but the law gives the U.S. attorney general so much flexibility in applying it that Congress would not even need to overturn the measure.
Trump has selected lawmaker Jeff Sessions – famous for his opposition to illegal immigration – for attorney general in his administration.
Such a move would probably make the regime in Havana quite happy, given that it has been asking for the policy to be overturned for decades.
Muse says that it can’t be ruled out, however, that Trump may pursue his own brand of normalization with the island, and – in effect – might end up surprising many by actually embracing some form of rapprochement and making it his own.