WASHINGTON – Part of President Barack Obama’s motivation in ending a practice that gave undocumented Cuban migrants who reached US soil the right to remain appears to have been a desire to discourage Donald Trump from reversing the process of normalization with Cuba.
Trump, who takes office Jan. 20, “will notice that the steps we’ve taken (with Cuba) make sense, they are serving our interests,” Obama adviser Mark Feierstein said Friday in an interview with EFE.
Feierstein, the National Security Council director for Latin America, said he was confident that the Trump administration would maintain the “great majority” of the accords reached with Cuba in the context of the rapprochement begun in December 2014.
The new president and his team will realize that “it makes no sense” to bar US residents from traveling to Cuba and stop American companies from investing on the island “while the rest of the world can” do those things.
Obama said Thursday that he decided to end what is known as “wet foot/dry foot” because the policy belongs to “a different era.”
The policy mandated repatriation to Cuba for the vast majority of undocumented Cubans intercepted at sea, while those who managed to enter the territory of the United States were welcomed with open arms.
“By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries. The Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of Cuban nationals who have been ordered removed, just as it has been accepting the return of migrants interdicted at sea,” Obama said, referring to a formal agreement signed Thursday in Havana.
Trump has threatened to reverse the normalization with Cuba unless Havana makes certain concessions, but the White House said Friday that Obama expected the new president to honor the migration pact.
Spokesman Josh Earnest cited a tradition of presidents’ respecting the executive accords signed by their predecessors, and he existence of “convincing reasons to continue normalizing relations” with Cuba.
Cuba has long demanded an end to wet foot/dry foot, which the Havana government says encourages Cubans to embark on risky sea journeys in hopes of reaching the US.
Obama decided to act before leaving office after officials detected an increase in arrivals of undocumented Cubans, Feierstein said.
Some 54,000 Cuban migrants benefited from wet foot/dry foot in the 2016 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.
In the past, most of the migrants arrived by sea, but a new trend has seen thousands leaving Cuba by air for South America and then making their way overland through Central America, spurring complaints from the region’s governments.
Those complaints were another factor in the determination to end wet foot/dry foot, Feierstein said.
Trump has yet to comment on the change in immigration policy toward Cuba.