Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla late Wednesday asserted that Puerto Ricans could continue to obtain U.S. citizenship by birth if Puerto Rico became a sovereign nation in an association with the U.S. — a status that members of his ‘Commonwealth’ party are calling “Sovereign Commonwealth.”
To back up his contention, the Governor argued that the U.S. citizenship Puerto Ricans have now was negotiated between Puerto Rico and the United States when they agreed on the Constitution of the Commonwealth government in 1952. He suggested that if it was done then, it could be done again.
Congress actually first began conferring citizenship based on birth in Puerto Rico in the 1917 Federal law for the governing of the territory. The 1950-2 process also covered provisions of that law not replaced by the territorial constitution.
There was no renegotiation of citizenship, as Garcia Padilla contended. Additionally, representatives of the president of the United States and leaders of Congress made it clear that the territory’s political status was not being changed — as it would if Puerto Rico became a nation.
Garcia Padilla made the statement five days after his Secretary of Justice, Cesar Miranda, claimed, “The grant of citizenship to Puerto Ricans is irrevocable. This is one of those situations where a later Congress cannot waive something that was previously done.”
Garcia was reacting to the contention of other “Commonwealth” party leaders that Puerto Ricans could continue to receive citizenship under “free association” (nationhood in an association with the U.S. that either nation could end).
Miranda was trying to rebut a brief filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in court which noted that the U.S. Supreme Court “has found that citizenship is not” a right in “unincorporated territories,” such as Puerto Rico, and Congress could determine whether to grant it or not grant it.
Despite Garcia’s assertion, the Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton Administrations have all rejected the idea of granting U.S. citizenship based on birth in a nation of Puerto Rico even if the nation is temporarily associated with the U.S.
The U.S. House of Representatives and the leaders of both national political parties of the U.S. Senate committee with jurisdiction over the status of territories have also dismissed the notion.
In its court brief, the U.S. Justice Department recalled the case of the Philippines, when the U.S. territory also called “the Commonwealth” became a nation. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the congressional withdrawal of the U.S. nationality of Filipinos alive before Filipino nationhood.
The Court explained that, if all of the people of the Philippines remained U.S. nationals under Filipino nationhood, the Philippines would not really be a nation.
The only statuses under which Congress cannot stop granting U.S. citizenship are statehood and incorporated territory status. An “incorporated territory” is a permanent part of the U.S. — instead of a possession, as Puerto Rico is — and will definitely become a State.
The U.S. Justice Department also made this clear in its court brief strongly opposing a claim that residents of the territories that have not been made parts of the U.S., “unincorporated territories,” are citizens by virtue of the Constitution of the U.S. — as maintained by Garcia’s ‘Commonwealth’ party — instead of by laws that can be more easily changed.