On Thursday, President Obama announced an end to the “wet foot, dry foot” policy that allowed most Cuban migrants who reach the United States to become legal permanent residents after one year.
“Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal,” said Obama. “By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries.”
The change in policy is in part an aspect of the Obama administration’s diplomatic thaw and normalization of relations with the island nation. The Castro regime was eager to see the policy changed since the mass exodus tended to challenge the regime’s narrative of a socialist paradise threatened by Yanqui imperialism.
“The fact that tens of thousands of young Cubans keep leaving is deeply embarrassing to the regime, and to Obama,” says former State Department official, and Cuban-American, Alberto Fernandez. “Why would they leave if everything is getting so much better?”
The White House believes the only way it’s going to get better is if Cubans stay. As Obama lieutenant Ben Rhodes, the point man on the administration’s Cuba policy, put it, in the past Cubans who came to the United States “absolutely had to leave” Cuba “for political purposes.” Not anymore, says Rhodes. Now they’re just looking for economic opportunity.
Wrong, says Sen. Marco Rubio. In a statement, the son of Cuban immigrants contended that it was “Obama’s failed Cuba policy, combined with the Castro regime’s increased repression, that has led to a rise in Cuban migration since 2014.” And indeed, as Rhodes and Obama well know, the communist regime continues to persecute and jail dissidents, and violate human rights. “I am heartened,” said Rubio, “by the fact that in a week we will have a new administration committed to discarding the failed Cuba policy of the last two years.”
And this brings us to the other likely reason for Obama’s change in policy. He wants to force the president-elect to change it back. He wants Trump, a man whose campaign promised to check immigration, to have to eat his words and admit immigrants—Latino immigrants.
Who knows if Trump will reverse Obama’s executive order? There are reasons to reform the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, as Rubio and others admit. The larger issue is that it seems to be one of many traps that Obama has set for the next administration, on both domestic and foreign policy.
For instance, yesterday, an article from the Israeli press reported that members of the U.S. intelligence community met with counterparts in Israeli intelligence to warn them about Trump’s connections to Russia.
Discussions held in closed forums recently raised fears of a leakage of Israeli intelligence top-classified information, clandestine modus oprandi and sources, which have been exposed to the American intelligence community over the past 15 years, to Russia – and from there to Iran.
The story, written by an Israel journalist well-known for his connections to intelligence circles, is bizarre for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that the Obama administration has been sharing intelligence with Iranian allies—Hezbollah, Iraqi militias, etc.—around the region for most of the last few years. Indeed, the administration proved it could not keep Israeli secrets when it repeatedly leaked news of Israeli strikes on Iranian arms convoys making their way to Hezbollah. And it was the Obama White House that sought active coordination with Russia in Syria, along with intelligence sharing.
Do the Israelis actually believe what their American colleagues are reportedly selling them? Israel has a good reading on Russia, not only because the Russians are on their border now, but also because of the more than one million Russian-speaking Israelis. Further, Jerusalem is very optimistic about its future work with the Trump White House, especially after eight years of a very bad relationship with an administration whose farewell to Israel was abstaining from a U.N. Security Council resolution that described the Western Wall as occupied territory. Indeed, the UNSCR was another trap set for the incoming administration. Go ahead and try to undo it, and you are going against the will of the international community.
The story describing American intelligence giving Israel a heads-up appears to be yet one more trap for the incoming White House, a disinformation campaign with contours very similar to the one that’s played out the last week locally, where the Trump administration is portrayed as a Russian proxy. The point, it seems, is to tie up the incoming White House and make it very difficult to undo Obama’s work—whether it’s the Affordable Care Act, immigration, Cuba policy, or the nuclear deal with Iran.
Obama’s only leaving the White House, not Washington. He’ll be just miles away from the Capitol, supervising the restructuring of the Democratic party, and the campaign against the Republican White House.