Changes to Policies Affecting Cuban Nationals

On Jan. 12, 2017, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced changes to the DHS’s policies regarding Cuban nationals. These policy changes were the result of the United States and Cuba taking progressive steps towards reestablishing full diplomatic relations with each other.

The changes also reflect the fact that Cuba has agreed to facilitate the return of Cuban nationals who were ordered to leave the United States.

American and Cuban citizens alike are celebrating this historical step in the normalization of the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba at last. From this point forward, the U.S. and Cuba will be encouraging the regular and safe migration between the two countries.

What Has Changed?

As of Jan. 12, the DHS revoked specific policies that applied to Cuban nationals. One of the key changes was the parole policy for arriving Cuban nationals, which was known as the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy.

The other policy that was rescinded was the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which as it implies, was for Cuban medical professionals. Under the new changes, it is now Department policy to treat such parole requests the same as similar requests from nationals in other countries.

DHS did away with the exception that prevented expedited removal for Cuban nationals who were taken into custody near the border and at ports of entry.

Note: The Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program was not affected by the changes in immigration law and continues to remain in effect.

Why Did the U.S. Make These Changes?

For decades, the former INS and DHS have enforced “special” policies that only applied to Cuban nationals seeking parole. When those policies were put into effect, they were justified at the time, specifically because of the discord between the two countries.

However, in late 2014, President Obama announced that the U.S. and Cuba were reestablishing diplomatic relations. Since the President’s announcement, the U.S. and Cuba have taken concrete steps to build bridges between the two countries, and promote trust and harmony.

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