Immigration Law and the Wet Foot, Dry Foot Policy

The debate over the U.S. policy termed ”wet foot, dry foot” still looms at the forefront of U.S. immigration law. This policy arose in 1995 under the Clinton administration as a revision of the Cuban Adjustment Act of Homeland Security Image1966 and states that Cuban immigrants caught traversing the waters between Cuba and Florida are to be treated differently based on where they are caught. Cubans caught while still in transit on the water (wet foot) are sent back home to Cuba or a third country. Those that reach dry land in America (dry foot) have the ability to remain in the U.S. and eventually qualify for legal permanent residence.

”Wet Foot, Dry Foot” Policy Draws Scrutiny from South Florida’s Cuban-Republican Community

”Wet foot, dry foot” has come under scrutiny after several newsworthy incidents raised concern about the legitimacy of the policy. In January of last year, the Coast Guard found 15 Cubans who had landed on an old, unused section of the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys. Because the portion of the bridge was no longer in use, the Coast Guard determined that the Cubans had not reached dry land, and as a result, they were repatriated to Cuba. Cuban FlagThis decision caused an outcry among Cubans in South Florida’s Republican community and from Florida’s Cuban-American senator, Mel Martinez. In addition, a growing concern passed through Congress in regards to a re-examination of the policy.
Shortly after the immigrants were sent back to Cuba, a suit was filed alleging that the Coast Guard failed to correctly implement the ”wet foot, dry foot” policy. The following month, a federal judge ruled that the government’s decision to return the Cubans was unreasonable, leading to 14 of the 15 immigrants to return in December to receive migrant visas.

Public Outcry in Response to 24-Year-Old Lifaite Lully’s Death

Lifaite's Funeral
Another story that has more recently surfaced poses the question of equal treatment of immigration law in regards to ”wet foot, dry foot.” Lifaite Lully, a 24-year-old Haitian migrant, died March 28 after making the long journey from Haiti with 101 others. His funeral was an outcry for those who have died during voyages to Florida’s mainland and those who remain in U.S. custody as a result. The surviving immigrants who made the journey with Lully remain in detention in Hallandale Beach.
Lully’s death raises strong emotions among Haitians who have fought to receive similar treatment that Cubans receive under the ”wet foot, dry foot” policy. Haitians now face deportation and incarceration if caught migrating, whether on land or at sea. Many have questioned the principles of ”wet foot, dry foot” as a practice applied only to Cubans and not other immigrants trying to flee an uprooted or economically unstable government.