Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), representing a community with a large percentage of individuals of Puerto Rican heritage, confirmed her support for the 2017 plebiscite at a Panel Discussion on Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican Community in Central Florida, held in Orlando, Florida.
Puerto Ricans “overwhelmingly voted for statehood,” Murphy said. “It’s not a question of whether Puerto Rico should be a state, but when.”
The plebiscite held earlier this month in Puerto Rico brought out more than half a million voters and 97% of those voters chose statehood. Opponents of statehood, including both independence supporters and those who want to maintain the current territory status, called for a boycott of the vote. Murphy, along with many others, doesn’t think the boycott matters. “In a democracy, only those who come out to vote can be counted,” she said. “The ballot was fair and it laid out the three options.”
In her remarks at the meeting, Murphy began by pointing out that, while Puerto Rico has a population of 3.4 million U.S. citizens, Florida is home to more than one million U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico.
“You are a vibrant and powerful community,” she said to the Puerto Rican members of her audience. “You deserve recognition and respect. You also deserve to have the issues you care about taken seriously by your elected leaders, and I intend to do precisely that. Please hold me to that promise.”
Murphy went on to share the personal experiences that have given her compassion for the people of Puerto Rico. “My parents, my brother and I came to America as refugees from Vietnam when I was a child,” she said. “Our family fled a country where human rights and human dignity were not respected and we were given sanctuary by a country that, while not perfect,is devoted to the principles of democracy and justice. I know that many of you have family and friends still living in Puerto Rico, and that you will always have the island in your heart.I just think it is morally wrong that the U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico can fight and die for our country in the armed forces,but cannot vote for their president and commander-in-chief.”
“That,” Murphy said, “is not the America I know and love.”
Murphy acknowledged that she is a newcomer to the issues of Puerto Rico, but emphasized that Puerto Rico’s territorial status is problematic.
“I also think it is unjust that the people of Puerto Rico do not have two U.S. senators and five voting members of the U.S. House of Representatives who have the power to protect and promote the island’s interests,” Murphy said. “And I think it is wrong that,simply because Puerto Rico is a territory,the federal government can—and too often does—treat Puerto Rico worse than the states under key economic and health programs. This unequal treatment harms quality of life on the island and drives migration to the mainland.”
While Florida welcomes Puerto Ricans, the congresswoman continued, it is wrong that people should feel forced to move to a state in order to avoid the unequal treatment they face as residents of a territory.
“I just think equality through statehood is the logical next step for Puerto Rico,” she said.