51 Puerto Rico organizations banded together to send a letter to Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-AR) of the House Natural Resources Committee. The letter called for immediate action on the question of Puerto Rico’s political status.
Puerto Rico is a territory belonging to the United States. Reps Darren Soto (D-FL) and Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR) introduced a statehood admission bill for Puerto Rico, HR 1522, earlier this year. Reps Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), meanwhile, introduced HR 2070, a bill proposing a status convention to brainstorm possible political status options for the territory.
The two bills have equal numbers of cosponsors, and both were sent to the Natural Resources Committee for consideration.
The committee held hearings on the bills and also asked the Department of Justice to analyze the bills to make sure that they were viable under the U.S. Constitution. However, neither has had a markup session or a vote.
“Just over one year after the historic 2020 election we are writing to urge you to respect and take immediate action on Puerto Rico’s vote for statehood,” the letter urges. “As civic organizations from across the states and Puerto Rico, we represent the majority of the U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico who voted on November 3, 2020, in support of full equality and democracy through statehood.”
The letter reminds committee members of the results of the 2020 referendum. “With a participation rate of 54.72 percent, the results of the November 2020 plebiscite were 52.52 percent (655,505 votes) ‘Yes’ and 47.48 percent (592,671 votes) ‘No,’ on whether the island should be admitted as a state. This was the third time in the last decade where island residents have been formally asked what future political status they prefer, and each time ‘statehood’ has gained the most votes. The majority consensus is now clear.”
“After more than a century of uncertainty,” the letter continues, “it is time for Congress to stop delaying and take action to definitively resolve Puerto Rico’s unequal and undemocratic territory status.”
Congress to Consider Two Bills – but Which Status Options?
HR 1522 or consensus
“We believe that the only way to respect Puerto Rico’s majority vote for statehood is by immediately bringing H.R. 1522, Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act up for a markup vote, or by quickly submitting and bringing to a markup a consensus plebiscite bill offering voters on the island a direct choice between defined constitutionally viable non-territory options of statehood or independence (with or without ‘free association’),” the authors wrote. “Of the two bills that address Puerto Rico’s political status currently under consideration by your Committee, H.R. 1522 and H.R. 2070, Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act, only H.R. 1522 represents a viable path forward. H.R. 1522 respects the will of the majority of U.S. citizen voters in Puerto Rico about their future political status by providing a constitutionally valid and implementable path to admission as a state of the Union.”
Leaders in Puerto Rico and in the U.S. Congress have proposed a consensus bill that could satisfy supporters of both bills. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) met with Soto, Gonzalez-Colon, Velazquez, and Governor Pedro Pierluisi in an attempt to come up with such a bill. No details of the discussion have been released.
The authors of the letter state that they prefer HR 1522 over HR 2070, which they describe as “unreasonable [and] unconstitutional.” However, they also wrote that they would accept a consensus bill within certain guidelines.
“[W]e believe that any consensus proposal must only include the constitutionally viable non-territorial status options mentioned above, and that voters in Puerto Rico must be given the opportunity to choose directly between those options at the ballot box,” they wrote. “We believe each option must be defined on the ballot and that the bill must include a method for implementation of each option that is self-executing. We also believe that any consensus proposal must have a clear timeline for a final plebiscite and a timeframe for transition in a reasonable period to whichever option is selected by a majority of voters. If the Committee proceeds with a consensus bill approach it must act swiftly to introduce the measure and mark it up in January or February so that it can have a real chance to become law in the current session of Congress.”
The 51 organizations signing the letter include the Republican and Democratic parties of Puerto Rico, the Young Republicans and Young Democrats of Puerto Rico, veterans’ organizations, We the People, the Puerto Rico Statehood Commission and numerous other statehood-supporting groups, and other community organizations.
Other civic organizations, including the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the Federation of Mayors of Puerto Rico, and the Federation of Municipal Legislators of Puerto Rico, have previously stated their support for HR 1522.
Emphasizing the broad demographics represented by the participating organizations, the letter concluded, “Your fellow U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are ready to finally resolve the century-old issue of Puerto Rico’s colonial territory status, and in order to give them that opportunity your Committee must take the next step. Be bold, do what is right. Take action now!’