Cuba Politics

U.S. wet-foot, dry-foot policy just double talk

Posted January 11, 2006 by mattlawrence in Cuba Politics.

Posted on Wed, Jan. 11, 2006
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

The hallmark of American politics in our time has been the triumph of semantics over morality. And so we’ve come to the point in the immigration debacle where the hopes of 15 people hinged on the meaning of the word ``bridge.’‘

Pier? Rock? Bridge to nowhere? It matters—if you’re a Cuban migrant—which one you choose at the end of your Caribbean cruise. Cling to the right one and you may find yourself on the way to American citizenship. Pick the wrong one and you’ll find yourself on the way back to Cuba.

Which raises the question: If an immigration policy is unconnected to reality is it still a policy?


The 15 men, women and children who alighted on an old bridge in the Florida Keys last week were forced to return to Cuba Monday. The bridge, full of gaps, is not connected to land and therefore the migrants ‘‘were determined to be feet-wet’’ according to a Coast Guard statement. Sorry, better luck next time.

The wet-foot, dry-foot policy is a fine example of the human desire to have it all without paying a price. The policy, now under all sorts of attacks for the hair-splitting inevitably involved in its enforcement, could only be the creation of a brilliant politician who never encountered a dilemma he couldn’t talk his way out of.

But the shame is not Clinton’s or even Bush’s, who perhaps is still trying to figure out what the policy means (limited reading comprehension being a possible reason he’s yet to revisit the law).

No, the shame prize goes to Cuban Americans for allowing themselves to be used again and again for political ends that have nothing to do with the well-being of Cubans and everything to do with the consolidation of American power.

Wet-foot, dry-foot is the perfect sort of pandering nonpolicy that for a long time seemed as inoffensive as it was ineffective—a way of seeming both compassionate and tough. For a long time, it’s also been a way of avoiding the far more difficult task of bringing equality and sanity to this country’s immigration laws, something that can only begin when we examine our relationship to the rest of the world.


Last weekend, as the Coast Guard debated what to do with the 15 Cuban migrants, I joined a group of writers gathered down the road in Key West to discuss the literature of adventure, travel and discovery.

There was much talk of inner journeys and the ethical dilemmas that come with writing about undiscovered places, the implication being that pristine landscapes are ruined once that lesser form of migratory species, the tourist, stumbles upon them.

I, too, spoke of encountering a ‘‘buried self’’ when I went to Cuba for the first time. And I told an amusing story about covering an anti-American demonstration in Pakistan.

It was a pleasant gathering of articulate and privileged people. But there is another kind of travel, the kind that most of the world engages in. From Africa to Latin America, millions of families set out on journeys to unfamiliar places, not with a sense of adventure, but with one of desperation.

Poverty and war have displaced millions of Africans. The fighting in Iraq has sent some one million Iraqi civilians fleeing for their lives. Hundreds of thousands have fled repression in the Caribbean. In just the 11 days leading up to Christmas, the Coast Guard picked up 150 migrants from Cuba and Haiti and returned them to their countries.

Every time I write about immigration, I can count on several people to tell me, with varying degrees of civility, that ``we can’t take everyone in.’‘

It’s as if these were magic words that protect us from the uncomfortable truth that we live in a world where a small percentage travel because they can and the rest travel because they must, an end to their exhausting journey too often depending on someone else’s definition of what it means to be free.


2006 and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Member Comments

On January 11, 2006, DeeDee wrote:

EVERYONE has a democratic duty to complain to their officials!  I am contacting all of these officials now.  This is outrage…this needs to be investigated. 

Please join demanding an investigation. Bilirakis, Michael—Florida, 9th Boyd, Allen, Florida, 2nd  Brown, Corrine, Florida, 3rd Brown-Waite, Virginia, Florida, 5th Crenshaw, Ander, Florida, 4th Davis, Jim, Florida, 11th Diaz-Balart, Lincoln, Florida, 21st Diaz-Balart, Mario, Florida, 25th Feeney, Tom, Florida, 24th Foley, Mark, Florida, 16th Hastings, Alcee L., Florida, 23rd Harris, Katherine, Florida, 13th Keller, Ric, Florida, 8th Mack, Connie, Florida, 14th Meek, Kendrick, Florida, 17th Mica, John, Florida, 7th Miller, Jeff, Florida, 1st Putnam, Adam, Florida,  12th Ros-Lehtinen, Ileana, Florida, 18th Shaw Jr., E. Clay, Florida, 22nd Stearns, Cliff, Florida, 6th Wasserman Schultz, Debbie, Florida, 20th Weldon, Dave, Florida, 15th Wexler, Robert, Florida, 19th Young, C.W. Bill, Florida,  10th