Governor Ricardo Rossello told reporters that 2020 presidential candidates need to be clear on their positions on Puerto Rico statehood before they campaign on the Island. Rossello was attending the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C.
“What I want to hear everybody talk about,” Reuters reported Rossello saying, “is their stance on the equality of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico? It should be a yes or no answer. There should be no room for wiggle.”
Puerto Rico, currently a territory of the United States, voted for statehood in 2012 and 2017. In January, 2018, the Island government made a formal request for statehood to Congress. When a territory requests statehood, Congress must vote on the question before the territory is admitted. The President of the United States then signs the admission bill. No action was taken last year.
Rossello explained that Puerto Rico can not achieve equality without statehood. Supreme Court decisions in the 20th century set the legal precedent that allows Congress to treat Puerto Rico differently from States. For example, Puerto Rico workers pay FICA taxes at the same rate as people living in states, but receive less funding for Medicare. Inequity of this kind is legal as long as Puerto Rico remains a territory.
In fact, the same Supreme Court decisions said that the U.S. Constitution does not offer Puerto Rico’s residents the same protection as citizens living in States.
When people from Puerto Rico move to a U.S. state, they are immediately eligible for the full rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizens.
Political candidates rarely take a firm position on statehood for Puerto Rico. More commonly, they make a statement about “self-determination.” For example, Elizabeth Warren during her recent visit to Puerto Rico said that “Puerto Rico deserves self-determination on this question.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez described Puerto Rico as “a colony that deserves real self-determination” in her congressional campaign.
Rossello rejected that phrasing. “That’s beautiful that you believe in self determination but we have already self determined,” he said. “It is time to take some action.”