Wet-Foot Dry-Foot Policy
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Since 1994 the United States and Cuba have an agreement that the U.S. will grant up to 20,000
visas annually to Cubans. This agreement was reached after Florida was flooded with Cubans when the Soviet Union, which heavily subsidized Cuba, fell apart. Cuba's economy worsened and poverty quickly spread. As a result, 35,000 Cubans left to the U.S. that year alone. To be reunited with their families and for an improved quality of life, many Cubans have made the journey to the U.S. since 1959 when Fidel Castro came into power. The limited number of visas does not fulfill the demand for those Cubans wanting to leave their country, so they have resorted to other means. Even though 20,000 visas are made available to Cubans, not all those are issued due to Cuba’s officials not providing enough resources and staff to process the applications. Some Cubans have headed to Mexico to enter the United States via the U.S.-Mexico border. Others take the shorter, more direct route from Cuba to the United States--often reaching shore in the South Florida area. They have risked their lives on boats of different sizes or homemade vessels that are not always sea-worthy. Cubans are motivated by the “wet-foot, dry foot” policy that allows those who reach dry land in the U.S. to remain in the country. If they are intercepted at sea, the Cubans get deported. However, if they manage to reach American soil they are allowed to stay in the U.S. and are granted
Green Cards. The waters of Florida are constantly patrolled by the
Border Patrol and by the U.S. Coast Guard, yet it is estimated that more than 16,000 Cubans make it to the U.S. successfully every year.
Part of what has added to their success is the use of high-powered boats known as go-fast boats, which can reach speeds up to 100 miles per hour. The costs of these boats are relatively high at about $200,000. However, in a short amount of time owners can break even and start making profits. Smugglers are charging anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 per individual to get them to dry land in Florida. However, safety has become an issue as many smugglers are traveling at high speeds to evade law enforcement officials and compromising the safety of passengers. Go-fast boats are usually designed to carry up to 10 individuals but to increase profits smugglers have been known to pack in up to nearly 70 passengers. When go-fast boats are intercepted, some smugglers have thrown some passengers (both children and adults) overboard in order to distract the Border Patrol or the U.S. Coast Guard as they try to escape. Since last year, law enforcement officials have confiscated more than 150 special equipped vessels such as the go-fast boats. During the last eighteen months, nearly 60 individuals responsible for playing a role in smuggling Cubans in go-fast boats have been detained. Sometimes the Customs and Border Protection officials even get phone calls from worried family members who have been expecting a family member to arrive from Cuba via some vessel and have not yet heard from them.
While efforts by law enforcement officials continue to be stepped up, it is still not enough to curtail the numbers of Cubans successfully reaching American soil. In the past three years, the number of Cuban immigrants reaching the U.S. has increased by double-digit percentages. One proposal voiced by immigration policy analysts and law enforcement officials has been to go after the families who are providing the funds for Cubans making their voyage to the United States. Sometimes the only barrier for Cubans desiring to emigrate to the United States is not having sufficient funds to pay a smuggler. Oftentimes, this is where the family steps in and makes it possible for the family member to pay the smuggler fee. Thus, some law makers have proposed that in cases where family members knowingly provide the funds for a smuggler, they could be considered accomplices and face legal consequences. Sometimes family members even show up at the Florida marinas where they are expecting their relative to welcome them. This proposal to go after the families to discourage Cubans from trying to enter the U.S. was quickly met with resistance, especially by Florida’s large Cuban exile community. Some disapproved of the proposal because many Cubans are so desperate to get out of Cuba that they will take extreme measures to leave a communist homeland behind. They do not blame them for wanting to leave Cuba and start a new life. In addition, they made the point that if law enforcement starts to go after families providing the funds then boundaries become blurred and legal issues could grow increasingly complicated. For instance, if a drug addict buys drugs with funds provided by their family then do would law enforcement be required to start prosecuting family members? Law enforcement officials see no relief in sight for the continuous arrival of Cubans but have decided against going after their families.