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.
The resolution also highlights the military service of men and women from Puerto Rico, the unequal treatment of the Island compared with States, and the fact that Puerto Rico’s voters have repeatedly voted for statehood.
The resolution resolves 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.”
It further concludes: “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.”