US changes immigration policies affecting Cuban nationals

By Patricia Elizee, Esq.

On January 12, 2017, President Obama announced number of changes in immigration policy affecting Cuban nations. The most shocking announcement was that effective immediately, Cubans will no longer benefit from the so-called “wet foot dry foot” policy. Cuban nationals traveling to the United States who were intercepted at sea were returned to Cuba or resettled in a third country, while those who made it to dry soil were able to request parole and, if granted, lawfully adjust status to green card holders. Now that the policy is no longer, U.S. Department of Homeland Security will consider any Cuban parole in the same manner as parole requests filed by nationals of any other county.

The Department is also eliminating an exemption that previously prevented Cubans from facing expedited removal proceedings at ports of entry or near a border. Arriving aliens, people who are attempting to enter the United States at a border without proper authorization or visa may be ordered deported without first being heard in immigration court. Any aliens that are found within 100 miles of the U.S land border can also be placed in expedited removal proceedings. Being a Cuban national was an exception to this rule, which is no longer the case.

The Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program has also been eliminated. The program was created in August of 2006. It allowed certain Cuban medical personnel in third countries to apply for parole in the United States. Applicants were required to show that they were Cuban medical professionals currently studying or working in a third country under the discretion of the Cuban government. They were able to apply for parole at a U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services office or U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. The Department will no longer be accepting applications under this program. According to the President’s statement, the United States and Cuba are working together to combat diseases that endanger the health and lives of our people. By providing preferential treatment to Cuban medical personnel, the medical parole program contradicts those efforts, and risks harming the Cuban people. Cuban medical personnel will now be eligible to apply for asylum at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, consistent with the procedures for all foreign nationals.

In a statement, the president explained that these changes reflect the reestablishment of full diplomatic relations with Cuba and other concrete steps toward the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations. In December 2014, the United States the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Since, the United States opened an embassy in Cuba. Concretes steps were taken to facilitate travel, commerce, and information sharing between the two countries. These changes are also intended to ensure regular, safe, and orderly migration to the United States. According to the President, the United States special immigration policies for Cubans were justified by certain unique circumstances, including conditions in Cuba, the lack of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, and the Cuban government’s general refusal to accept repatriation of its nationals.

The Cuban Adjustment Act and the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program remain in place. The Cuban Adjustment Act was passed by congress in 1996. Under the Act, any Cuban national may apply for a green card if they can show that they 1) were inspected and admitted or paroled into the United States, 2) have been physically present in the United States for at least one year, and 3) is otherwise admissible. Under the former wet foot/dry foot policy, Cubans who entered the country illegally were able to get paroled, then adjust status to a Lawful Permanent Resident. To now benefit from the Act, Cubans must enter the country legally or through the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, then apply for their green card.

The Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program allows beneficiaries of certain approved family based immigration applications to travel to the United States before their immigrant visas become available, rather than remain in Cuba to wait for the visa. The purpose of the program is to expedite family reunification though safe, legal, and orderly channels of migration to the United States. It also discourages dangerous and irregular maritime migration.

Patricia Elizee is the managing partner of Elizee Law Firm. The firm focuses on Immigration and family law issues. Ms. Elizee can be contact at 1110 Brickell Avenue, Suite 315, Miami, Florida 33131 or 305-371-8846.

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