The Obama administration has ended the Clinton-era policy known as "wet foot, dry foot," which allows Cubans special immigration status just days before he leaves office.
The change in the policy would effectively mean Cubans are treated like other immigrants in that those who enter the United States illegally would be subject to return, according to the White House.
Other countries in the region have been asking the U.S. to end the special status because of what they say is the burden that Cuban immigrants trying to make it into America has placed on them.
Cubans have been offered a "special visa" status that allows them, with a single "dry" foot on U.S. soil to claim a green card and get onto a pathway to citizenship, a policy developed in the mid-1990s by President Bill Clinton.
The Clinton measure was designed to slow the tide of Cuban migrants coming to the U.S. by sea. Before that even migrants rescued at sea would be brought to the United States.
The "wet foot, dry foot" policy was continued under Presidents Bush and Obama.
"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 U.S. law and enforcement priorities," the White House statement said. "By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries."
The Cuban government hailed the announcement. According to The Associated Press, Cuba's top diplomat for U.S. affairs, Josefina Vidal, said of the policy, "It was creating serious problems for the security of Cuba, for the security of the United States and for the security of our citizens left vulnerable to human trafficking, migratory fraud and violence as a result of the incentives created by these preferential policies."
According to the White House, the Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of those entering the U.S. illegally as well as those who are stopped at sea.
The administration has for months said it can't end the special immigration status for Cubans coming to the U.S., claiming that decision rested with Congress.
According to Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, the decision to end the program with only a week left in the Obama administration came after negotiations with Cuba.
"Since I took office, we have put the Cuban-American community at the center of our policies," the White House said. "With this change we will continue to welcome Cubans as we welcome immigrants from other nations, consistent with our laws."
Obama Administration Ending 'Wet Foot, Dry Foot' Policy for Cubans