Obsolete policy all washed up


The outgoing president, not giving a fuck anymore, tossed two decades of foreign policy into the rubbish bin:

President Obama announced Thursday an end to the 20-year-old ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy that allowed most Cuban migrants who reach U.S. soil to stay and become legal permanent residents after one year.

President Obama issued a statement Thursday evening saying the U.S. is working to normalize relations with its one-time foe, and ending this policy was the next logical step. ‘Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal,’ Obama said. ‘By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries.’

The ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy, created by President Clinton in 1995, has generally allowed Cubans who simply touch U.S. soil to stay in the country. Those caught at sea are returned to Cuba. In exchange for the new policy, Cuba has agreed to start accepting Cubans who were issued a deportation order in the United States, something the communist nation has refused to do for decades.

Someone new to South Florida interested in subtle shades of anger is welcome to a conversation on wet foot, dry foot. A Clinton-era compromise to mitigate the impact of thousands of refugees floating across the Florida Straits on planks of wood, the policy pleases no one except the lucky Cubans whose bare feet touch the sand. The Cuban-American right thinks, plausibly, that benefits shouldn’t automatically go to these arrivistes. The half dozen members of the Cuban-American left considers it an unwanted heirloom, crafted when the end of the Cold War caught Washington flatfooted.

Let me provide context, as my European lit professor used to say. The Cuban Adjustment Act helped thousands of refugees establish a measure of stability in their lives. My grandmother, an administrator by training, worked in refugee assistance before the establishment of Human Rehabilitation Services, from which she retired twenty-five years later. But this act of purported magnanimity had a poisonous effect on these new Miamians. Congress passed this act because the United States had lost Cuba. No Guatemalan Adjustment Act exists; no Haitian Adjustment Act was ever proposed. The hardened Cold Warriors who wrote and hurried this legislation to Lyndon Johnson’s desk understood its cleverness. It bound these infuriated Cuban arrivals in cords of gratitude; it augmented the strength of their patriotism and whetted the blade of their malice.

I doubt the Washingtonians anticipated the result: these arrivals created an unusual amalgamation of dizzying ardor for patria and a startling propensity for Yankee jingoism. Thanks to the Act, the average Cuban American displayed a commitment to more halfwit ideas that a Rotarian in Idaho would have tolerated in a diner after church. We burgled the Watergate Hotel. We wept when Ronald Reagan visited a mediocre restaurant and, in return, we supported arming the Contras of Nicaraguans with weapons bought by the dough we got from the Iranian mullahs responsible for keeping the hostages in 1979. While Felix Rodriguez and Luis Posada Carriles worked for the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers, the rest of us slapped “Ollie North For President” bumper stickers on our Buicks. To install a second Bush in the Oval Office, we kept Miami-Dade County election officials from finishing a recount in 2000 using thuggery and intimidation. We believed in charlatans; we aspired to be mountebanks. For proof, read Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s statement. Then glance at her colleague Mario Diaz-Balart’s. They’re miffed that a President Trump didn’t do it first.

Florid with profanity, ironical, generous without expectation of reward, Cubans have made formidable contributions to the body politic; our presence is why, electoral happenstance aside, Florida is no longer an Alabama with sempiternal tropical heat. The rescinding of wet foot, dry foot means the termination of our elite status, the end of our haute seigneur towards other immigrant groups, and a diminishment of our contempt for the newest Cuban arrivals. It complicates Trump’s Cuba policy, insofar as he has one that’s any less coherent than Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart’s.

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