In his first formal remarks on the U.S. mainland following the historic November 6, 2012 plebiscite in which the continuation of Puerto Rico’s territorial status was rejected by 54% of the island’s voters, Puerto Rico’s second highest government official called upon the United States Congress to “tear down” the anachronistic wall of segregation and inequality that for nearly a century has deprived Puerto Ricans of the most basic rights of their American citizenship, and allow Puerto Rico to become a state.
In view of the manifest will of the people of the territory, Puerto Rico Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock said it’s time for Congress to act.
“Rather than questioning if Puerto Rico wants to be admitted into the Union, members of Congress should be asking themselves what kind of Constitution and citizenship they want the United States to have,” declared McClintock in plenary remarks today before the 36thAnnual Conference of Caribbean and Central America Action, convened in New Orleans, Louisiana.
“Puerto Rico’s political status is an anomaly in the U.S. constitutional system,” McClintock said, explaining that as a result of the plebiscite, it can no longer be maintained that the citizens of the island consent to the perpetuation of what has been an inherently subordinated, unequal status in the American political family. “With this plebiscite, the American citizens of Puerto Rico have withdrawn any plausible consent to Congress ruling over the island by virtue of the Territory Clause of the U.S. Constitution,” McClintock emphasized.
The island’s Secretary of State, Democratic National Committeeman and former Chairman of the U.S. Council of State Governments, who also fulfills the role of Governor Luis Fortuno’s Lt. Governor, said that in addition to being ostensibly buttressed by “the consent of the governed” up until now, the perpetuation of Congress’s unequal treatment of Puerto Rico has been heretofore justified by anachronistic, segregation-sanctioning, 1920’s-era Supreme Court jurisprudence whose revision and overturning is long overdue.
McClintock referred specifically to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1922 decision in Balzac v. Porto Rico [sic], which cited the Hispanic as opposed to Anglo-Saxon origin and tradition of Puerto Ricans as an impediment to the full applicability of the U.S. Constitution to the U.S. citizens of the island.
“Today Puerto Rico is considered to be an unincorporated territory of the United States because a court of segregationist judges could not conceive of a faraway island inhabited by Hispanics, rather than Anglo-Saxons, to be a part of this Nation, even if they were American citizens,” said McClintock. “To this very day, to their shame, there are still some members of Congress who want Puerto Rico to continue to be an unincorporated territory
indefinitely,” he added.
“In this day and age, America should not accept a lesser class of American citizenship for Puerto Ricans as it was once acceptable to have a lesser class of American citizenship for African Americans and women,” McClintock went on to declare. “Contrary to what the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Balzac, the Constitution does not provide for a full-fledged American citizenship for Anglo-Saxons in the continental United States while allowing a limited citizenship for island residents of Hispanic origin,” McClintock thundered. “America is one nation with one citizenship.
As President Barack Obama said: ‘There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.”’
“A judicial decision that, departing from law and precedent, was guided by racial prejudice should find no further recognition in American jurisprudence and have no application by our government. Balzac is bad law. The Territory Clause cannot be the Constitution’s escape clause. Puerto Rico is a part of the United States and must be treated as such. And if America is to be true to its values, Congress must tear down that wall of Balzac in the same way that it tore down the wall of Plessy v. Ferguson. The only way for Congress to do it is to allow for Puerto Rico to become a state,” concluded McClintock.
In addition to rejecting the continuation of territorial status, statehood emerged as the preferred non-territorial status of 61% of Puerto Rico’s voters on November 6, versus 33% for free association and 5.5% for independence. McClintock added that Puerto Rico’s top vote-getter in the November 6 general elections, Pedro Pierluisi, was re-elected to the territory of 3.7 million American citizens’ sole non-voting seat in Congress, and will carry the people’s mandate to Washington for necessary action by President Obama and the 113th Congress of the United States.