The Puerto Rico Statehood Commission has written to Congress demanding action on Puerto Rico statehood.
The letter, sent on March 6, was signed by five members of the Commission, each of whom was identified as either a Shadow United States Senator or Shadow Member of Congress. The correspondence, addressed to their fellow “colleagues” of the United States Congress, explained that as Puerto Rico’s shadow delegation, their mandate is to come to Congress to advocate for and demand statehood.
“On March 2, 1917, ” the letter began, “the U.S. Congress granted American citizenship to the people of Puerto Rico through the Jones-Shafroth Act (P.L. 64–368). Since then, Puerto Ricans have proven their loyalty and contributed to the United States in countless ways. U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico have proudly served in the Armed Forces in every conflict since World War I. Along the way, Puerto Ricans have earned honors including one Congressional Gold Medal for the 65th Infantry Regiment “Borinqueneers”, nine Medals of Honor, and thousands of Purple Hearts, all of which are a testament to the ultimate sacrifice Puerto Ricans have made to promote and protect American interests and values.
“As this celebration of 100 years of American Citizenship comes to an end, we call on Congress to recognize that the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico live at a disadvantage compared to our fellow citizens in the states.”
The letter includes a list of inequalities in the treatment of residents of Puerto Rico, compared with those of the 50 states:
- “Puerto Ricans are subject to federal laws but do not have voting representation in the U.S. House of Representatives or any representation in the U.S. Senate.”
- .Puerto Rican soldiers can’t vote for their Commander-in-Chief.
- “Congress can and does treat Puerto Rico unequally under federal laws, leading to incoherent and arbitrary policies that limit the Island’s opportunities to maximize its economic potential.”
- Puerto Rico is treated like a state in many cases, but is treated as foreign for others.
- “Although we deeply cherish our American citizenship, our rights as citizens are not guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.”
The authors remind their readers that Puerto Rican citizenship is based on a “101 year old statute that Congress could repeal if desired.”
The letter goes on to describe the results of the two most recent status votes in Puerto Rico. In 2012, voters in Puerto Rico “soundly rejected the current undemocratic and unequal territorial status, and a majority favored statehood over all other non-territorial status options.” In 2017, “97 percent of voters in Puerto Rico overwhelmingly re-confirmed that statehood is our preferred status option to end the inherently limiting territorial status.”
The Statehood Commission declared that these votes demonstrate that Puerto Rico is currently governed “without the consent of the governed.”
Furthermore, the letter continues, the existence of the PROMESA fiscal oversight board (FOMB) and the slow pace of recovery from Hurricane Maria prove that the current territorial status is “obsolete and unable to meet the challenges of our time.”
“While efforts to re-establish fiscal sustainability, restructure debts and rebuild after the hurricanes are all necessary,” the letter continues, “these measures are simply insufficient to overcome Puerto Rico’s challenges. The reality is that Puerto Rico’s territorial status is an inherent structural limitation on the island’s true and full potential. America’s best interests are simply not served by continuing a century old failed territorial regime that can never be fixed.”
The Commission argues that statehood is the only possible solution to the problems Puerto Rico faces. “[O]nly Puerto Rico’s admission as a state, with equal rights and responsibilities, would bring significant economic progress to the island, decrease dependence and increase interstate commerce for the mutual benefit of Puerto Rico and the rest of the Nation.”
The letter then expresses unwillingness to wait for Congress to initiate the change. With a nod to a number of other territories which were bold enough to demand statehood, the authors conclude, “The time to end Puerto Rico’s undemocratic colonial territory status has come. After decades of federal elected officials claiming support for Puerto Rico’s ‘self-determination,’ it is imperative that Congress respect and act upon the results of the 2012 and 2017 votes. We ask for your leadership to help us finally and definitively transition to a fully democratic system of government through statehood.”