Miami-Dade County’s mayor said Friday that dropping the “wet foot-dry foot” policy for Cuba was “inevitable” because of widespread abuse, but that he would urge President-elect Donald Trump to bring back a special program for doctors from the island nation.
“I would ask him to reconsider the change in Cuban doctors,” the Cuban-born Republican said during a brief interview. “I think with the wet-foot dry foot policy, it was almost inevitable that something would have to change because there had been so much abuse.”
Gimenez’s take on the outgoing president’s Cuba actions is sure to draw attention, given Miami-Dade being home to the country’s largest Cuban-American population, the voting bloc supporting Trump in 2016, and the mayor’s relationship with the president-elect. The two spoke the day after Fidel Castro died in November, and Gimenez plans to attend his first presidential inauguration next week to watch Trump take the oath of office.
The mayor issued a statement Thursday night with a similar two-part response to Obama’s surprise announcement. While he offered criticism of the well-known “wet foot dry-foot” policy that the president ended, Gimenez praised the more obscure “medical parole” program that the president also struck down.
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Michael Hernández, a Gimenez spokesman, said the mayor’s criticism of the “wet foot-dry foot” policy referred to smugglers abusing it to support human trafficking from Cuba, as well as the practice of some Cubans using the automatic residency provisions but then returning to the island while collecting U.S. government funds.
The Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, started in 2006 under the second Bush administration, gives immigration officials latitude to allow Cuban doctors and nurses practicing in other countries to come to the United States.
The program aimed at a point of pride for the Cuban government: a medical corps traveling around the world in efforts to spread good will, raise cash, and increase the influence of the Castro regime. On Friday, Gimenez described Obama’s ending the program as a boon to the dictatorship.
“This was a deal with the Castro brothers. That is one of the things they wanted,” Gimenez said of the medical-parole program’s end. “I wouldn’t have done it.”