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Citizenship Transition for a Freely Associated State of Puerto Rico

On July 20, The House Natural Resources Committee passed HR 8393, The Puerto Rico Status Act, and sent it to the full House of Representatives for further consideration.

A number of amendments were proposed, but none were passed. One of the amendments, introduced by Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-WI), asked to strike the U.S. citizenship transition should the people of Puerto Rico choose free association.

Amendment #9: to remove the citizenship transition period for a Freely Associated State

“This amendment would strike the citizenship transition period, should the residents of Puerto Rico choose the free association option,” Tiffany said. “Why does only this status option have a ‘transition period’? Why isn’t there also a transition period in Title I?”

Title I refers to the independence option. Tiffany asked whether the Act would actually change the current immigration law regarding children born to U.S. citizens abroad. If so, he wondered why that would be the case for an Associated Republic of Puerto Rico but not for an independent Republic of Puerto Rico without a Compact of Free Association.

“I’d like to see other committees with jurisdiction over immigration, tax policy, and entitlements have input on this bill,” he continued. He suggested that it was “a messy proposition” to expect a vote by the residents of Puerto Rico when the effects on their citizenship were not fully clear. “We should know what the effects will be before we vote on this bill.”

“If the people of Puerto Rico want to be independent, that means there is no special treatment and no special benefits,” he continued.

Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) reminded the committee of the Supreme Court case of Afroyim v. Rusk, in which it was decided that “under the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, a U.S. citizen cannot lose his or her citizenship unless he or she willingly surrenders it.” Puerto Rico, however, is not covered by the 14th Amendment.

“Puerto Rico currently has 3.5 million citizens who will retain their citizenship under the articles of Free Association,” she said. “After 122 years of colonialism, the bare minimum that the United States can do for Puerto Ricans is to ensure citizenship is guaranteed if Puerto Rico chooses to vote for free association.”

Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR) objected. “The United States has laws that determine how citizenship is granted. Extending U.S. citizenship to those born in a sovereign foreign nation to non-U.S. citizens would be unprecedented.”

He continued. “The people of Puerto Rico should understand what choosing independence or sovereignty entails: that is, separation from the U.S. federal system and the related benefits.”

The vote on Amendment #9

There were 17 ayes and 26 nays. Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR) voted nay; otherwise, all the ayes were Republicans and all the nays were Democrats. Reps. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Garret Graves (R-LA), and Amata Radewagen (R-AS) did not vote.

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