Puerto Rico Status Act Introduced in Congress

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ.), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, introduced the Puerto Rico Status Act in Congress today.

The Puerto Rico Status Act is a compromise bill negotiated by the sponsors of two different status bills for the U.S. territory, with input from field hearings and meetings held in Puerto Rico.

“Finding a resolution to Puerto Rico’s political status has been one of my top priorities as Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee,” Grijalva said in a statement. “But I know that the decolonization of Puerto Rico shouldn’t be a decision made by lawmakers in Washington alone. That’s why I’m so proud of both the work and commitment of my colleagues toward incorporating feedback from the leaders and residents of Puerto Rico into this final bill.”

Read the Puerto Rico Status Act

Clarified definitions

The bill as presented in the House differed from the discussion draft of the bill in several ways. Like the initial draft of the compromise bill, it calls for a plebiscite to be held on Nov 5, 2023. The referendum will include three options for Puerto Rico’s status:

  • Independence
  • Free association
  • Statehood

The current territorial status is not an option; if the bill passes, Puerto Rico will no longer be a territory of the United States.

The option receiving the majority of the votes will be the official status of the Island. If none of the three options receives more than 50% of the votes, a run-off between the top two choices will be held in March of 2024. Blank ballots will not be counted.

Under Independence, the new version specifies that U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico and U.S. businesses trading there will be subject to U.S. tax laws. It also calls for current U.S. citizens to keep their U.S. citizenship for life but recognizes that people born in Puerto Rico after a Declaration of Independence will not be entitled to U.S. citizenship.

Under Free Association, the provisions for taxation and citizenship are the same as for independence, except that “Individuals born in Puerto Rico to parents both of whom are United States citizens shall be United States citizens at birth, consistent with the immigration laws of the United States, for the duration of the first agreement of the Articles of Free Association.” This option also states that the articles of free association to be negotiated between Puerto Rico and the United States may include more details on taxation.

Under Statehood, the Act specifies that the U.S. Constitution will apply fully and that citizenship and taxation will be the same for Puerto Rico as for the other states.

Implementation

The Act explains that an independent nation of Puerto Rico will not provide U.S. citizenship to people born there, but that for 25 years following independence, a citizen of Puerto Rico may live and work freely in the United States.

The plan for independence maintains the financial contributions of the federal government to Puerto Rico for a full ten years after independence, followed by ten years of gradual transition away from financial support.

If Puerto Rico becomes an associated republic, the Act says, citizens of Puerto Rico will be subject to the immigration laws and policies of the United States if they choose to enter the United States. However, for the duration of the first agreement on Articles of Free Association between the U.S. and Puerto Rico, a child born in Puerto Rico to two parents who are U.S. citizens will be a U.S. citizen at birth. Puerto Rico citizens will also have the right to live and work in the U.S. as nonimmigrant residents.

The financial contributions to Puerto Rico by the United States are the same under free association as under independence.

The Act also describes the implementation of statehood. This section has not changed. Puerto Rico will enter the Union on an equal footing with all existing states.

The Act also specifies that the President of the United States will review federal laws relating to Puerto Rico and call for any needed adjustments.

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