Concerns about U.S. Citizenship Noted in Status Proposal

On Wednesday, July 20, the House Natural Resources Committee approved The Puerto Rico Status Act and forwarded the bill for consideration by the full U.S. House of Representatives.

The proposal, reflecting months of collaboration among the congressional leaders of Puerto Rico related issues in the House of Representatives, provides a process for the people of Puerto Rico to choose among viable political status options available under the U.S. Constitution.

The details of each option, however, have been the source of scrutiny and criticism from both the left and the right.

Fox News has pointed out that all three of the options being offered to Puerto Rico voters in the bill — statehood, independence and free association — would come with the possibility of continued U.S. citizenship.

Quoting Heritage Foundation Border Security and Immigration Center senior research fellow Simon Hankinson as saying that this arrangement lets Puerto Ricans “have their cake and eat it, too,” Fox delineates the privileges that come with U.S. citizenship:

  • While U.S. citizens living in other countries must file federal income tax returns, they are often eligible for foreign income tax exclusions. Most residents of Puerto Rico would have incomes lower than the threshold for this exclusion and would not pay taxes (just as most would not pay taxes under statehood).
  • Most U.S. citizens living abroad can vote in U.S. elections. In some cases, they can do so whether or not they have ever lived in the United States. While this depends on the state where they (or, in some cases, their parents) last lived, the details for residents of Puerto Rico are not included in The Puerto Rico Status Act and so would have to be hammered out after independence, possibly in the courts.
  • U.S. citizenship allows unrestricted travel and work privileges in every state. A Republic of Puerto Rico could, Fox points out, make alliances with Russia or China and yet nearly all the citizens of the new nation could freely travel and work in the United States, perhaps for generations into the future.

Hankinson questions whether these privileges for Puerto Rico would be beneficial for the United States as a whole.

National Taxpayers Union

The National Taxpayers Union sent a letter to Rep. Raul Grijalva (R-AZ) expressing similar concerns.

“NTU has a deep and abiding concern for taxpayers residing in Puerto Rico as well as their fellow taxpayers across the country,” the letter begins. “For nearly a decade now, NTU has been actively involved in the development of a legislative response to aid Puerto Rico’s recovery and establish long-term fiscal stability.”

Referencing Robert Dalton’s testimony on U.S. citizenship for citizens of a new nation of Puerto Rico, the letter says that “there would be instances where citizenship is extended to the children of two U.S. citizens under the free association model. We must point out, however, that determining such citizenship criteria, while enforcing certain work requirements that already apply to Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands, will involve a much greater commitment of U.S. taxpayer resources than current policy toward free association arrangements might entail.”

Many discussions of the options available to Puerto Rico if it became an Associated Republic use the three current Free Associated States as examples, but the NTU makes the accurate point that “Puerto Rico’s population, economy, and fiscal impact on federal finances dwarfs those of Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands. Accordingly, more consideration should be given to this area.”

Read the letter.

Moot points?

Concerns over the ramifications of continuing U.S. citizenship for citizens of a new nation of Puerto Rico may be a moot point. In a hearing on a similar bill in 1998, Rep. Larry Craig (R-ID) said, “It also must be made clear that if Puerto Rico elects separate sovereignty, Congress will end U.S. nationality and citizenship for people born in Puerto Rico in the future. Persons born there prior to termination of U.S. nationality and citizenship will, at a minimum, make an either/or election between Puerto Rican and U.S. nationality and citizenship. Congress has the authority to stipulate and must do so to ensure that effective transfer of sovereignty occurs. The notion of universal dual citizenship with guarantees, not even available under current status, must be dispelled before informed self-determination will be possible.”

In addition to the likelihood that Congress will not accept definitions of independence which include U.S. citizenship for the citizens of a new nation of Puerto Rico, independence has never received a significant number of votes in Puerto Rico and is highly unlikely to win a referendum on the Island.

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