Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla late yesterday announced that he will propose legislation to enable all residents of Puerto Rico who are not citizens to vote — including those in the U.S. territory in violation of Federal law.
He made the announcement at an event with the president of the Dominican Republic marking the signing of some agreements between the territory and its independent neighbor. The accords are of the nature that U.S. territories and States can sign with foreign nations with U.S. Department of State approval.
The Governor passionately argued that illegal immigrants should be treated equally with citizens.
U.S. Immigration System “Nonsense”
Referring to “Our people of Dominican descent and other nationalities who have migrated irregularly,” he recognized that they “have been denied the vote.” He contended that this is … to our shame” and is only because of “paperwork and nonsense of the immigration system of the United States.”
Like “Blacks, the poor, and women”
He also contended that “Blacks, the poor, and women have also suffered this form of marginalization.”
He did not note that this long past discrimination in the nation concerned citizens and legal residents.
The president of the territory’s “commonwealth status” party called for “equal rights and obligations” for all residents regardless of legal status, asserting that “To whomever on Earth works for their bread, there come the values of freedom and inclusion that distinguish us as Puerto Ricans.”
He did not acknowledge that ‘commonwealthers’ oppose residents of Puerto Rico having voting representation — equal or otherwise — in their national government and the equal treatment of the territory under all Federal laws.
Garcia justified his proposal saying that there is precedent in other U.S. jurisdictions, which, he said, is “too bad, because we should have been first.”
He did not identify the jurisdictions, but they consist of a few small municipalities in one county in Maryland. And non-citizens in the small communities are not allowed to vote in county or State elections.
It is also illegal for non-citizens to vote in Federal elections. Puerto Rico holds elections for all offices — including the Federal office of resident commissioner in the U.S. — once every four years. So, the Government of Puerto Rico would have to ensure that non-citizens do not vote for resident commissioner if it enfranchises them to vote for Commonwealth and municipal office.
Garcia also did not explain how non-citizens — including those subject to deportation by the Federal government — would be registered to vote.
There are a couple of hundred thousand people of Dominican origin in Puerto Rico. Many are citizens by naturalization or birth but many are living in the territory illegally.
Garcia has taken other actions to treat the illegal residents equally with citizens and legal immigrants, including enabling them to obtain Government-paid for health care and driver’s licenses.
Yesterday, he also endorsed legislation to allow them to have accounts at and borrow money from financial institutions.
With an approval rate of 19% among citizens and 66% of citizens saying that they would not vote to re-elect him next year in a recent poll, Garcia may also hope to gain votes by adding illegal residents to the electorate.
Puerto Rican Equality Advocates
Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, the president of the party advocating equality for Puerto Rico within the nation, reacted by saying that he thinks “the priority should be to grant equality to American citizens residing in Puerto Rico.”
Senator Thomas Rivera Schatz, also a possible statehood party gubernatorial candidate next year, termed the Governor’s proposal “unconscionable” contending it is “a promise that he cannot keep.”
Statehood party House of Representatives Member Tony Soto was more explicit, suggesting that the proposal is inconsistent with the territorial government’s constitution.
Members of Garcia’s “commonwealth” party control both houses of the legislature.