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The Status Question

Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. The U.S. acquired Puerto Rico from Spain in 1898, and the Island has belonged to the United States ever since. In 1917, Puerto Ricans became U.S. citizens. Everyone born in Puerto Rico is a citizen of the United States.

But Puerto Rico is not a state. It continues to be a territory. Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress has “plenary” – complete – power over Puerto Rico, as is clear by the authority of the unpopular and congressionally created Federal Oversight and Management Board (FOMB). It is legal for Congress to treat Puerto Rico differently from states, and Puerto Ricans do not share in the same rights and responsibilities as their fellow U.S. citizens.

There are no senators or voting congressional representatives for Puerto Rico. The Island has just one non-voting representative in the U.S. Congress. The people of Puerto Rico cannot vote in presidential elections; they have no electors in the Electoral College. Puerto Ricans serve in the U.S. military at higher than average rates and yet they cannot vote for their Commander in Chief. Puerto Ricans fight for democracy around the world and yet do not experience democracy at home.

Puerto Rico is also not a country. While Puerto Rico fields successful sports teams in international sporting events and competes in international beauty pageants, those teams and individuals could also be a part of U.S. delegations. The government of Puerto Rico simply doesn’t have the stature of a nation in the foreign arena, whether at the United Nations, World Bank, or in bilateral discussions with sovereign nations.

And, while the title of Puerto Rico includes the word “commonwealth” (just like the titles of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Kentucky), that word has no legal meaning in the United States. Puerto Rico is simply a territory belonging to the United States.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico’s young men and women continue to serve in the U.S. armed forces with distinction. Puerto Ricans are voting for statehood with their feet, moving to the 50 states in record numbers, where they automatically receive the full panoply of democratic rights that are the hallmark of the United States – except in Puerto Rico.

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