The Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee, the governing body of the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania, unanimously passed a resolution last week calling on all Democratic federal legislators to support statehood for Puerto Rico.
The Latino Caucus of the Committee took this action after the U.S. House of Representatives passed an admissions bill for Washington, D.C. without addressing Puerto Rico’s similar situation and ignoring the referendum vote on statehood scheduled in Puerto Rico this November.
Peter Munsing explained on Medium that “The Pennsylvania resolution process was begun because it was felt that in the in the conversation about statehood for the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, with a far greater population and needs had been ignored, becoming as with other causes ‘el pueblo olvidado,’ the forgotten people. With another vote on statehood coming up on the November Ballot in Puerto Rico, it was felt that a Congress seemingly oblivious to the needs of La Isla had had to be primed, woken up to be ready to acknowledge a ‘yes’ vote in Puerto Rico with a vote of ‘Welcome,’ not another consignment to Congressional committee as has happened before.”
“The vote today calls on the Pennsylvania Democratic Congressional delegation to be actors, not mere bystanders, if Puerto Rico again votes for statehood in November,” Munsing continued. “Pennsylvania joins the Democratic parties of New York and Florida in moving Congress finally to action.”
Action from Congress is required
Why does it matter that Pennsylvania supports statehood for Puerto Rico? Existing States do not have to ratify the admission of a new State, but the legislators from the States are the ones who make the decision to admit a territory as a State.
Puerto Rico, because it is a territory belonging to the United States, has no senators and only one representative in the House. That representative, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, does not have a real vote in matters pending before the House of Representatives.
This means that Puerto Rico does not have a voice in the decision in Congress to admit Puerto Rico as a State. The legislators from the current 50 States must make that decision.
The Pennsylvania resolution refers to this fact, saying, “[B]ecause Puerto Ricans have no representation in Congress, they need others to advocate for them, and Democrats in Pennsylvania, the cradle of liberty and a Commonwealth with seven plus per cent of its population that is Latinx, need to respond by taking a leading role on this matter.”
Pennsylvania’s population is currently almost 8% Hispanic, with Puerto Ricans making up more than half of the broader Hispanic population.
Puerto Ricans represented half the Hispanic population of Pennsylvania in 2014, and their numbers have only grown. The most recent U.S. Census data shows that Puerto Ricans comprise over 16% of the total population in at least one congressional district and more than 64% of the Hispanic population in another.
RESOLUTION TO SUPPORT STATEHOOD FOR PUERTO RICO
WHEREAS, the Democratic Party has committed itself to the advancement of all peoples, and equality among citizens of the United States, without regard to color or ethnicity; and
WHEREAS, beginning with the Revolutionary War, the people of Puerto Rico have fought alongside Americans and then for the United States: over 210,000 have served in combat operations; and currently, 20–30% of Puerto Ricans (including the mainland diaspora) have served or are serving in the armed forces of the United States; and
WHEREAS, the population of Puerto Rico, if a state, would be 30th in size; yet these citizens are deprived of any vote in Congress and are deprived of the right of other U.S. citizens to vote for the President. As a result, Puerto Rican US citizens must rely on others to advance their cause in Congress having no say in the laws that apply to them; and,
WHEREAS, since the Northwest Ordinance, the policy of the United States has been that upon a U.S. territory reaching a sizable populace, that territory should be granted statehood following the territory voting for statehood, in accordance with Article IV of the Constitution; and
WHEREAS, three times this numerous, brave, but disenfranchised citizenry has voted for statehood, and will have the opportunity to reaffirm that support for statehood in a referendum this November; and
WHEREAS, Puerto Rico has been treated as a colony since it was taken over by the United States from Spanish colonial occupation; and
WHEREAS, Puerto Rico has a poverty rate of over 40 percent, needs economic development assistance and medical and other social assistance; and
WHEREAS, despite its population’s poverty and needs, it pays a far higher portion for medical assistance than similar states in the US, and further, the people must bear the equivalent of a tax imposed without representation in the form of the Jones Act, which requires that goods transported from the US to those islands be only on US-flagged vessels, significantly increasing costs; and
WHEREAS, because Puerto Ricans have no representation in Congress, they need others to advocate for them, and Democrats in Pennsylvania, the cradle of liberty and a Commonwealth with seven plus per cent of its population that is Latinx, need to respond by taking a leading role on this matter;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Democratic Party of Pennsylvania declares our support for statehood for Puerto Rico so that Puerto Ricans finally shall have the same legal rights and privileges of other United States citizens, specifically the rights of full franchise, to equality of representation in the US House and Senate, the right to vote for the President of the United States, and the right to equality in assistance for its citizens and equality and fairness in the treatment of its citizens, and
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that the Pennsylvania Democratic Party urges the Pennsylvania Congressional Delegation to work with its colleagues to enact the legislation necessary to grant statehood to Puerto Rico upon the Puerto Rican citizenry’s reaffirmation of their preference for statehood this November, and also to pass such additional legislation as required to assure that during the process of garnering statehood, Puerto Rico is provided with assistance that would have the form of a truly comprehensive sustainable economic and public services plan for the Island, with funding for education, community health, infrastructure and development projects, and that Medical Assistance and Social Security be provided to the citizens of the Island at rates equivalent to those that apply to the fifty states, and to reform the Jones Act so that all citizens of all the states pay the subsidy rather than burdening only those with no representation,
Sponsor: The Latino Caucus of the Pennsylvania State Democratic Committee;
David Rodriguez, chair, (adopted unanimously). Peter Munsing, (Berks County)
Joanne Tosti-Vase (Centre County);
Co Sponsors: Janet Diaz (Lancaster County), Brad Kirsch (Bucks County), Micah Mahjoubian (Philadelphia), Patti Rose (Berks), Cole Goodman, Bargara Cooper (Philadelphia)
Puerto Rico is an island with a population of 3.4 million people (if she was a state she would be the 30th in population size.). Its citizens have a long record of volunteering to fight alongside the United States and then for the United States.
Though the policy of the United States since the Northwest Ordinance has been that once a territory had sufficient citizens, those citizens could vote for statehood, and in accordance with Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution Congress would pass laws admitting the state.
The people of Puerto Rico have voted three times to seek statehood, yet each time Congress has not reacted, in part due to racism, in part due to politics. Whatever the cause, the result is an unequal treatment for the United States citizens of Puerto Rico.
Because of its status as a “protectorate,” Puerto Rico has to fund more than 80 percent of the cost of Medical Assistance. At the same time, other low-income states like Mississippi only have to fund about 25 percent. Given its poverty, at a minimum, the U.S. government should treat Puerto Rico like a state, not like a shortchanged colony
So far, money that has gone to Puerto Rico has gone to creditors. Puerto Rico needs a funding source for community development and related appropriations, as is documented by a Brookings Institute report, which noted that there needed to be a sustained commitment as opposed to the half-hearted assistance given only after a hurricane.
Further, goods not manufactured in Puerto Rico have to be shipped by sea, and many of the basic materials of everyday life are imported. Unlike other states that may use road and rail shipping, shipping into and out of the Island is governed by the Jones Act, which requires that all shipping be done by US ships. This Act effectively doubles the cost per container of goods. It is estimated this adds a $1.5 billion or more cost to the Island, a cost proportionally more significant because the Island is poor, with fifty percent of the population Medical Assistance Eligible!
There is no good reason for the Jones Act, and it is opposed by economists like Paul Krugman and others. The rationale for the Jones Act is that it helps the maritime industry. However, the burden of propping up this industry — apparently a national goal — falls unequally on Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and other island territories. If the Jones Act furthers a national goal, the nation should subsidize US shipowners if they can’t compete otherwise. The effects of this Act have been burdening Puerto Rico for 100 years, part of a burden of colonialism that is unjust and discriminatory.
The number of Latino citizens in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is over 850,000 and growing (seven percent of the state’s population), making Pennsylvania the state with the 13th largest Latino population in the United States.. So far, Democratic representatives and Senators have not taken the lead in protecting the needs of the unrepresented Island, let alone debt forgiveness or a comprehensive multi dimensional development plan, programs needed so that this Island — that is treated as a colony — will be able to realize its vibrant potential.
It’s time for Democrats to do more than stand by disapprovingly while Republican figureheads throw paper towel rolls at Puerto Rican Citizens. Puerto Rico wants statehood, it needs seats at the Congressional table. Congress needs clear directives to end “in committee” death of statehood enabling legislation, and to realize the dream of Puerto Ricans: of equal rights and equal voting power for Puerto Ricans.
Recent events show a Puerto Rican polity with a persistent and meritorious demand for rights of equality, one that is ready for change and willing to be a change agent. Democrats need to support this home-grown renewed movement for equality long overdue.
This resolution seeks to make the dream of statehood and true equality a reality, not another dream deferred. Adopting it says to the people of Puerto Rico and to the Borriqua diaspora: “The Democrats of Pennsylvania stand with you!”
Let Puerto Rico be a demonstration of what America can do, not what it chooses not to do. Democrats can, and should, lead the way.