President Obama's decision to end the "wet-foot, dry foot" policy that allowed Cubans to gain permanent residency in the United States if they arrive without a visa is "another pathetic concession" to the Castro regime, according to a Florida Republican congressman.
"If I see a picture on Friday of President Obama massaging Raul Castro's feet, really, with fuzzy little gloves, massaging his feet, that wouldn't surprise me," Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart told reporters on Thursday. "Because this president has no limit when it comes to bowing down, appeasing and giving concessions to Castro or to other enemies of the United States."
Diaz-Balart has long been one of the most ardent critics of the Cuban government. He is the nephew of Fidel Castro; the dictator dubbed him one of his "most repulsive enemies." The lawmaker argued that Obama's decision is especially misguided given that it comes one day after the temporary detention of Oscar Biscet, a doctor and political dissident, who was threatened with further arrests if he continues trying to organize a new parliament in the country.
"There is no concession that Castro has wanted that Obama has not been willing to give him and give it to him unilaterally," Diaz-Balart said. "You know, you would think that, for example, President Obama would be concerned about the fugitives of U.S. law that are harbored by the regime. Cop killers, terrorists — doesn't seem to concern him. You would think that he would be concerned about those who commit fraud in the United States and then go back to Cuba. You would think that his priority would be the national security of the United States or the Cuban people, but once again his priority is obviously pleasing Castro."
Congress has allowed Cubans who come to the United States without a visa to claim legal residency since 1966, but Castro weaponized that at times by fomenting mass migrations to the United States. In 1995, the famous "wet-foot, dry foot" policy was implemented, stipulating that Cubans who arrive in the United States will be allowed to remain, but those caught by U.S. Coast Guard or other law enforcement would be turned back.
Obama is scrapping that as part of the ongoing normalization of relations with Cuba. "To the extent permitted by the current laws of our two countries, the United States will now treat Cuban migrants in a manner consistent with how it treats others; unauthorized migrants can expect to be removed unless they qualify for humanitarian relief under our laws," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a Thursday statement.
Diaz-Balart's criticism notwithstanding, there is at least some bipartisan support for ending the policy, given that other travel restrictions between the two countries were eased as part of Obama's effort to restore ties with Cuba.
"It is difficult to justify refugee benefits for people who are arriving in the United States and are immediately traveling repeatedly back to the nation they claim to be fleeing," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who opposed normalizing relations with Cuba, said in August.
Some Cuba observers believe that the recent influx of Cubans was also engineered, at least in part, but the Castros. "The latest Cuban exodus — thousands stranded in Central America — pushes a twisted quid pro quo on the United States: halting the human flow in exchange for repealing the embargo," Maria Werlau, executive director of the nonprofit Free Society Project/Cuba Archive, wrote in the Miami Herald.