English Translation of Puerto Rico’s New Plebiscite Law Released

The Puerto Rican government quickly responded to federal concerns with Puerto Rico’s upcoming plebiscite ballot.  Only days after receiving a letter from the U.S. Justice Department noting suggested changes to the ballot and related materials, the Puerto Rico legislature passed and Governor Ricky Rossello signed S. B. 427, an amended version of the Puerto Rico Immediate Decolonization Act, the original law presenting the ballot and plan for the June 11, 2017 referendum on Puerto Rico’s political status.The official English translation of S.B. 427 is now available.

The new law is designed to “include the current territorial status that subjects Puerto Rico to the plenary powers of the Congress of the United States of America, among the status options available to voters in the ballot of the Plebiscite to be held on June 11, 2017; modify the plebiscite in order to fulfill the requests of the United States Department of Justice and ensure that the federal Government abides by the outcome of the Plebiscite.”

The “Statement of Motives” in the law reminds readers that the U.S. law setting aside funding for the plebiscite required that “the U.S. Attorney General shall review the ‘options that would resolve Puerto Rico’s future political status.'” Because of this, the document continues, “the options set forth in Act No. 7-2017, supra, were limited to non-colonial and non-territorial status options that would resolve the democratic deficit of the current territorial and colonial status after 119 long years. Attempting to ‘resolve’ an issue by proposing as an alternative the issue itself, which involves discrimination, inequality and injustice, is a clear contradiction.”

The Puerto Rico government’s dissatisfaction with the requirement to include the current territorial option is clear from other statements in the new law, too. The law includes this statement: “Reports on the political status of Puerto Rico commissioned by the White House, extensive debates at the U.S. Congress, and the holding of the Supreme Court of the United States in Sánchez-Valle make the political inferiority of the U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico under the current territorial and colonial status of the Island absolutely clear.”

The law goes on to list the DOJ’s concerns: “First, the current territorial status shall be included in the plebiscite. Second, it is necessary to clarify that the Free Association option entails a ‘complete and unencumbered Independence,’ and that the Enhanced Commonwealth is unconstitutional and thus unacceptable for the U.S. Congress.” These requirements are straightforward, though they are unpopular with the various political parties.

The third concern raised by the DOJ seems less straightforward.

“Lastly,” the document continues, “the U.S. Department of Justice pointed out that mentioning the ‘negotiation’ of the U.S. citizenship as described under the Free Association option on the ballot would be potentially misleading and unacceptable, since it does not recognize that the current territorial status entails the statutory right to birthright citizenship. The U.S. citizenship upheld under the current territorial status was granted by virtue of the Jones Act of 1917 and a Congress could eliminate it by repealing or amending said Act, while U.S. citizenship in the states is granted by virtue of the Constitution of the United States of America and may not be revoked by a mere Federal legislation.”

The document goes on with a discussion of the citizenship issue. “This interpretation of the U.S. Department of Justice is ambiguous and promotes confusion by giving Puerto Rico citizens the impression that the recognition of the U.S. citizenship at birth is permanently guaranteed, including to future generations of those born in Puerto Rico. The only political status that guarantees U.S. citizenship constitutionally, permanently, and equally for all citizens born therein is being a state of the Union.   The Department fails to mention that recognition of U.S. citizenship for the United States territories depends on the affirmative actions, the will, and discretion of the Congress. In territories such as Puerto Rico, Congress may or may not grant citizenship. Even if Congress grants citizenship to a colonial territory, it is a statutory citizenship and does not entail the full constitutional rights and guarantees upheld for U.S. citizens born in the states. In the specific case of Puerto Rico, Congress provided for U.S. citizenship in Section 302 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1402). In Puerto Rico, U.S. citizenship is evidently statutory, has no permanent guarantee, and is contingent upon the territorial status where the United States exercises its sovereignty under the ‘territory clause.’”

Following further discussion, the law concludes the motivation section by saying, “Notwithstanding our objection and rejection to the proposal of the current territorial status as a solution to the status issue of Puerto Rico, because we deem that finding a definite solution to the main cause of the social and economic problems of the U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico to be unavoidable, this Legislative Assembly and the Governor of Puerto Rico have decided to amend the Act in accordance with the recommendations of the U.S. Department of Justice. In doing so, we shall obtain the unwavering support of the Government of the United States of America to the plebiscite to be held on June 11, 2017.”

The law goes on to specify the new ballot options, to give instructions to the voter, and to describe the way that the vote will be publicized and organized.

“All ballots not voted and/or wrongly voted will not be accounted in the official results certified by the State Elections Commission, according to the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico” is one of the statements of instruction. This covers the question of boycotting or of making protest votes; voters will know ahead of time that blank ballots or blank questions will not be counted as votes.

The law concludes with the next steps in case either statehood or independence should win the referendum.

Download the full document by clicking the link below.

Puerto Rico plebiscite law amendments

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