Last week, TV hostess Laura Ingraham, who took offense that Justice Sotomayor expressed a preference for the term “undocumented” over “illegal,” made the following comments about Sotomayor:
Her duty is to defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and that’s what she says? …Why do we have a Supreme Court justice whose allegiance obviously goes to, you know, her immigrant family background and not to the U.S. Constitution? So we have no rule of law. We are going to pick and choose who has to follow the law in the United States.
Many commenters have pointed out that:
- Justice Sotomayor’s family comes from Puerto Rico, where residents have all been U.S. citizens since 1917.
- Most Americans (presumably including Ingraham) have immigrant family backgrounds, often more recent than that of Justice Sotomayor.
- Being a descendant of an immigrant does not imply a lack of allegiance to the Constitution, which was actually written by immigrants and the descendants of immigrants.
- Using a more courteous term does not invalidate the rule of law.
- There is no conflict between upholding the constitution and suggesting (in the question and answer section following a talk at Yale Law School, as it happens) that the term “illegal alien” is insulting.
Laura Ingraham is not, however, the only person in America who is unaware that the people of Puerto Rico are citizens of the United States. A search for the phrase “Puerto Rican immigrants” at Google will turn up more than one million uses of the term. Several examples of educational materials show up in such a search; these documents often mention that Puerto Ricans are citizens, as in one college site that explained, “Puerto Rican immigrants were distinguished from other immigrant groups because of the legality of their immigration into the United States.”
While this might be excused as a misunderstanding of the term “immigrant,” it is hard to excuse the number of mainland citizens who simply don’t know that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.
Puerto Rico has no senators and only very limited representation in Congress, and thus must rely on legislators from the mainland to make informed decisions about their welfare. Meanwhile, widespread ignorance about Puerto Rico on the mainland sparks concern.
Perhaps the outcry over Ingraham’s remarks will help the people of the mainland become aware of Puerto Rico’s position. If so, it will be a blessing in disguise.
Read more about how Puerto Rico’s status as a territory of the U.S. is an issue for all Americans.