Obama to end policy granting Cubans residency without visas

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Obama administration is ending the "wet foot, dry foot" policy that granted residency to Cubans who arrived in the United States without visas.

That's according to a senior administration official, who said the policy change was effective immediately.

The official said the U.S. and Cuba have spent several months negotiating the change, including an agreement from Cuba to allow those turned away from the U.S. to return.

The move comes about a week before President Barack Obama leaves office and is likely the last major change he will make to his overhaul of the U.S. relationship with Cuba.

The policy shift will not effect Cubans already in the United States.

Cuban American attorney Ralph Fernandez, of Tampa, supports the move.

"It's an embarrassment to our entire immigration system that the Cubans get a pass on every rule at this stage of the process," said Fernandez.

Fernandez says processing exiles through a lawful point of entry will curb mass migration and ultimately cut off Communism in Cuba.

"If everyone who opposes the regime has no other way out than to change it, change will come," said Fernandez. "Now, it's like a pressure cooker and the pressure started getting hot today."

This policy, which has been in place for two decades, has applied only for Cubans. Other immigrants who attempt to enter the United States without a visa face arrest and deportation.

"By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries," said President Obama in a statement Thursday.

According to CNN, the number of Cuban migrants entering the US had doubled from 2014 to 2015, when the White House thawed relations between the US and Cuba.

Both governments expect the policy change to cut down on migrants traveling by makeshift rafts, dangerously crossing the straights of Florida.

ABC Action News heard mixed opinions on the streets of Ybor Thursday night, Tampa's hot spot for Cuban cuisine and culture.

"It is shocking," said Cuban American Yolaine Leon. "I felt really bad for the people still there and they are looking for more opportunity." 

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