"This morning US Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed 2 Cuban nationals to Havana," ICE said. The flight is the first manifestation of President Barack Obama’s January 12 decision to end a policy called ‘wet foot, dry foot’ that was negotiated between Cuba and the US under the Clinton administration.
The pair of women already had return tickets, had suspended their asylum applications, and told immigration officials they would return voluntarily, the Miami Herald reported. Nevertheless, the women were deported, which "sends a negative message," according to one of the deportee’s lawyers.
ICE has detained 172 Cubans since January 12, el Nuevo Herald said. It remains unclear how many Cubans will be deported and how long they will be held in detention. On Friday, the US Coast Guard also sent home 11 Cubans who had been intercepted at sea.
The Clinton era policy dictated that Cubans who arrived safely in the US without visas would be granted residency while migrants caught at sea would have to be returned. The January 12 decision from Obama stated, "Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with US law and enforcement priorities."
"By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries," Obama said.
The Washington beltway publication, Politico, noted that the end of ‘wet foot, dry foot’ was “perhaps the most high-profile step toward normalizing relations” with Cuba since Obama’s call for détente in 2014.
Since President Obama announced in 2014 that the US would resume improved bilateral relations with Cuba, migration from the island nation has surged. In 2015, Cuban entries increased 78 percent over 2014, according to US Customs and Border Protection data. Approximately 56,000 Cubans arrived in the US via ports of entry in 2016, representing another 31 percent jump over 2015.
Since the end of ‘wet foot, dry foot’ the stream of undocumented migrants attempting to reach the US has fallen significantly, the Coast Guard said.