Puerto Rico Status Issue Crosses Political Party Lines

Puerto Rico’s status as a territory of the United States is an issue that transcends the traditional parameters of political partisanship.

When it comes to the possibility of statehood, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner in Congress, Republican Jenniffer Gonzalez Colon, is in sync with Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (MD) that statehood is the best arrangement to honor the democratic traditions of the U.S. and achieve equality.

Conversely, New York Democrat Rep. Nydia Velazquez has been a traditional supporter of a “commonwealth” status for Puerto Rico under which Puerto Rico would remain a U.S. territory, but have certain enhancements that combine the rights and privileges of statehood – such as U.S. citizenship – with independence.

Although Rep. Velazquez has come to recognize that such a “commonwealth” arrangement is not feasible and put her support behind the bipartisan Puerto Rico Status Act (HR 8393), continued interest in the prospect of a “Commonwealth” continues to endure through conservative Republican Senator Roger Wicker (MS).  Senator Wicker has introduced legislation calling for Puerto Rico to hold a  new referendum with a “commonwealth” option on the ballot.

Bipartisan Rejection of a Recent Proposal

Unusual bipartisan cross currents can similarly be found in the rejection of the Puerto Rico Status Act, which was passed by the House Natural Resources Committee earlier this year but is currently stagnating before the full House of Representatives and likely to die before the end of the current Congressional session.

Republican members of the Natural Resources Committee proposed dozens of amendments to the bill during committee consideration of the bill, including one focused on the end of U.S. citizenship. Uncertainty about ongoing U.S. citizenship was a primary concern during that discussion.

Citizenship Transition for a Freely Associated State of Puerto Rico

Likewise, there have also been Democratic representatives, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez  (D-NY) and Chuy Garcia (D-IL), who have chosen not to cosponsor the bill. Uncertainty over the question of U.S. citizenship in a sovereign nation of Puerto Rico is one concern.

“[T]he bill lacks clarity and specificity on key issues for my constituents and their loved ones on the island including how U.S. citizenship would be defined under Sovereignty in Free Association, the status of Puerto Rico in the Olympic games, and the future of the island’s debt and tax policies,” Garcia said in a statement.

The Puerto Rico Status Act: The Citizenship Question

 

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