Rhode Island Senators Jack Reed (D) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D) have both signed on as cosponsors of the Puerto Rico Statehood Admissions Act (S. 780).
Following the November 2020 vote in favor of statehood for Puerto Rico, S. 780 recognizes the results and calls for Puerto Rico’s admission to the Union as a State once certain requirements are met: “Subject to the provisions of this Act, and upon issuance of the proclamation required by section 7(c), the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is hereby declared to be a State of the United States of America, and as such shall be declared admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the other States in all respects.”
It further calls for a ratification vote, allowing the people of Puerto Rico to vote on acceptance of Congress’s offer of statehood after the bill passes in Congress and is signed by the president. This was the same process followed by Alaska and Hawaii.
The bill states that the laws, government, and borders of Puerto Rico will be unchanged, except that any laws contrary to statehood will automatically be repealed.
Apart from Rhode Island, the other states whose senators have cosponsored S. 780 are all on the Pacific. The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D) represents New Mexico.
However, Rhode Island has the sixth largest proportion of Puerto Ricans among the 50 states. About one third of the State’s growing Latino population identifies as Puerto Rican. Providence in particular has a vibrant Puerto Rican community.
The earliest Puerto Rican residents of Rhode Island came to the State in the 1920s as farm laborers. Unaccustomed to the cold winters of the northeast, they left their families in Puerto Rico and lived in Rhode Island during the growing season, returning to the Island for the winter.
Later in the 20th century, as Puerto Ricans settled in New York in large numbers, New Yorkers of Puerto Rican heritage made up the largest part of Rhode Island’s Puerto Rican community. Before World War II, 88% of Puerto Ricans living in the United States lived in New York City; Rhode Island was an easy next step for those wanting new opportunities. Oral history shows that Rhode Island was seen as a safe place to raise children.
In the 1980s, the Puerto Rican community in Providence, Rhode Island, was large enough to provide new Puerto Rican residents with familiar groceries, music, and cultural opportunities. Puerto Rican migration to Providence picked up at this time. There was another surge in Puerto Rican migration to Rhode Island following Hurricane Maria, when the State saw a 36% increase in its Puerto Rican population.
Puerto Ricans are now amply represented in leadership positions in Rhode Island, including the Secretary of State, Nellie Gorbea who is running for governor of the State.
Senators Whitehouse and Reed
Both Reed and Whitehouse have voted to support Puerto Rico in the past, and Whitehouse said several years ago that he would vote in favor of statehood if given the opportunity.