immigration policy has long been the center of much debate. In recent months the treatment of Haitian immigrants has come into question. Many in the Haitian American community question why Cuban immigrants are granted asylum while Haitians and other immigrants are deported. The purpose of this discussion is to explore the immigration policy of wet foot dry foot and to determine why this policy is such a controversial topic.
Defining the wet foot dry foot policy
The wet foot dry foot policy was enacted in the late 90's and permitted under the 1966 Cuban adjustment act the policy allows an individual who flees Cuba the right to stay in the United States if there feet touch the shore or the soil. ("Wet Foot Dry Foot") The Clinton administration feared an influx of Cuban immigrant so the administration voted to continue the policy. ("Wet Foot Dry Foot")
Now Bush administration has decided to continue to implement the policy. ("Wet Foot Dry Foot")
The policy is believed to reduce the amount of Cuban immigrants that enter the country. As the article states, "The policy staunched the flow of rafters, but it added another layer of inconsistency to U.S. immigration policy." ("Wet Foot Dry Foot")
The wet foot dry foot policy dictates that if an individual does not reach shore they must prove that they will face persecution if they are returned to Cuba. ("Wet Foot Dry Foot") The policy was enacted in wake of the Cold War and the mounting displeasure that the American Government had towards Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
Cuban immigrants are the only immigrant group that benefit from this policy. Supposedly, the reason for this is because Cubans are viewed as political exiles that are fleeing harsh dictatorships. Many believe that the policy is hypocritical because it grants citizenship to one group but not to others. Others believe that the law is needed for Cubans fleeing political persecution and poverty.
History of Cuban Immigration
According to an Agenda paper created by Max Castro of the University of Miami, "Historically, the average number of Cuban immigrants entering the United States from 1960 to 1962 and from 1965 to 1973 was significantly higher than the annual average during the last decade." (Castro)
Castro goes on to explain that the ratios of Dominican, Haitian and Jamaican immigrants exceeded the number of Cubans that entered the country during the 1990's. (Castro)
There are reasons why the influx of Cuban immigrants has decreased. Castro asserts that the, reason for limited Cuban migration is U.S. policy toward Cuban immigrants, which has moved, in fits and starts, from one of nearly unconditional acceptance of all Cubans fleeing the island to a more restrictive approach. The U.S.-Cuba immigration agreement of 1994 has succeeded in substantially normalizing the migration process, but the "wet-feet/dry-feet" policy represents a significant loophole that encourages unsafe, unregulated, and unauthorized migration often carried out by smugglers of human cargo and costly in human life."(Castro)
Opposition to Wet foot dry foot
There are many who believe that the wet foot dry foot policy should not exist. On the other hand, others oppose the fact that the policy has not been extended to include all immigrant groups. Still others believe that the policy violates human rights laws.
For the purposes of this discussion we will discuss the opposition of Fidel Castro and his government. We will also discuss why Haitian Americans oppose the fact that the policy has not been extended to Haitians. In addition we will explore why some feel that the policy violates human rights laws.
Chief among the opponents of this law is Fidel Castro. Castro believes that the current U.S. policy towards Cubans encourages people to risk their lives. In an article entitled "Castro Blasts U.S. Immigration Policy for Cubans" Fidel asserted that the policy was a "diabolical killing machine."(Fletcher)The article also state that the 1967 Cuban Adjustment Act encouraged illegal attempts by Cubans to leave the communist-ruled island by sea, whether in flimsy homemade boats and rafts or with the help of U.S.-based smugglers. This had lured many Cubans to death by drowning in the Florida Straits and was continuing to do so, he added. He was speaking at the end of a meeting of Cuba's Women's Federation. (Fletcher)
Cuba has often called its citizens to protest the American Immigration policy stating that it persuades Cubans to take huge risks with their lives. ("Cuba calls for protests denouncing U.S. immigration policy") In September of 2000 the Cuban government persuaded the citizens to protest the policy in light of the deaths of Cuban Migrants who were attempting to leave the country and come to America. ("Cuba calls for protests denouncing U.S. immigration policy") The Cuban government also believes that the American Government can do more to prevent smuggling rings that smuggle people out of Cuba to America. ("Cuba calls for protests denouncing U.S. immigration policy")
Much of the opposition to the Wet Foot Dry Foot Policy has come from the Haitian American Population. Many believe that the same immigration policies that have been extended to Cubans should be extended to Haitians and other immigrant populations.. It has been asserted that the current policy is racist and attempts to exclude persons with black skin. This belief isn't just confined to the Haitian community, though many activists are Haitian Americans.
The Haitian Americans have protested and lobbied congress to have the law extended to Haitian Americans. BBC News reports that,
Haitian Americans have demonstrated outside the immigration service in Miami following the expulsion of more than 400 would-be immigrants from Haiti. The activists said U.S. immigration policy was racist, highlighting the difference in the treatment of Haitian and Cuban migrants. ("U.S. immigration policy branded 'racist'")
The Haitian American Community represents the largest segment of new immigrants to Florida and most that reach Florida are deported. The government's excuse for treating Cubans differently "is that the Cubans are fleeing Fidel Castro's communist government and are assumed to face political persecution if they are returned.... most of the Haitians are economic, not political, refugees and not entitled to asylum." ("U.S. Policy Favors Cuban Refugees") The Justice Department estimates that asylum applications handled by immigration courts in during the years of 2000 through 2001 shows that courts denied 88% of the asylum applications submitted by Haitians. ("U.S. Policy Favors Cuban Refugees") Haitian activists make it clear that they do not wish to eradicate the current policy for Cubans. They only want the policy to be extended to Haitians. ("U.S. Policy Favors Cuban Refugees")
Many in the Haitian community use the Elian Gonzalez case as a point of reference. Elian Gonzalez was a six-year-old boy from Cuba who was found at sea when the boat he escaped from Cuba in capsized.. ("U.S. immigration policy branded 'racist'")
Gonzalez was allowed to stay in the country for a while even though his feet did not to American land under his own will.
US immigration policy branded 'racist'")
Haitian activists were hopeful that this would set a precedent if Elian was allowed to stay in the country. However Elian was sent back to Cuba where his father lived. This notwithstanding the Elian Gonzalez case was very controversial and brought into question America's immigration policies. ("U.S. immigration policy branded 'racist'")
Recent Haitian Immigrants
On October 29, 2002 a boat crowded with 200 Haitian refugees arrived in downtown Miami. ("U.S. Policy Favors Cuban Refugees")Haitian Americans are furious because if these immigrants had been Cuban they would have been allowed to stay in America until it was determined that they could qualify as exiles. In the case of the Haitian refugees they will probably be sent back to Haiti. ("U.S. Policy Favors Cuban Refugees") City councilman Jacques Despinosse stated that, "If you come here from a communist country, it's OK. If you come from a white country, it's OK. If you come here from a black country, noncommunist, it's not OK."("U.S. Policy Favors Cuban Refugees")
The article also reports that Representative Meek, a black Democrat, confronted Governor Bush during a campaign stop in October, trying to persuade him to call President Bush and urge him to free the Haitian immigrants. ("U.S. Policy Favors Cuban Refugees") Representative Meek Stated "All you have to do is call -- the wet-foot, dry-foot policy would take effect," she said. "You can do it."("U.S. Policy Favors Cuban Refugees") Reportedly Representative Meek and other activists will form a protest March that will convene on Washington in February. ("U.S. Policy Favors Cuban Refugees")
The article also asserts that the different economic situations between the Haitian American community and the Cuban American community perpetuate the differences in the immigration policy. ("U.S. Policy Favors Cuban Refugees") For Instance the "South Florida's Cuban-American community has grown into a powerful economic and political force since the first wave of refugees…