Rhode Island Officials Express Support for Puerto Rico Statehood

A group of elected officials from Rhode Island has written to the Congressional Rhode Island delegation in support of statehood for Puerto Rico.

Nellie M. Gorbea , the Rhode Island Secretary of State; L. María Rivera , the Mayor of Central Falls;  Glendaliz Colón, Central Falls Councilwoman; Elizabeth Fuerte, Newport Councilwoman; Valerie González, Woonsocket Councilwoman; Luis Colón, West Warwick School Committee Member; and  William Hangan, East Greenwich School Committee Member were the authors of the letter.

“We write to you as fellow Rhode Island elected officials who also happen to be of Puerto Rican heritage, respectfully requesting that you join in sponsorship of H.R. 1522 – the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act,” the letter begins.

“In 1898, the United States decided to take over the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. Since that moment 122 years ago, the U.S. flag has flown over Puerto Rico and its residents have shared our U.S. citizenship since 1917. Puerto Ricans are proud American citizens. They have shed their blood in defense of our nation for over a century, and they continue to contribute to the uniqueness and greatness of the United States in the fields of art, science, technology, and culture,” the authors continue. “Despite their incredible contributions to our nation since the turn of the 20th century, the residents of Puerto Rico remain unable to vote for the President of the United States and have no voting representation in the Congress in which you serve.”

Respect the vote

“Last November, Puerto Rican voters were asked a simple question:’Should Puerto Rico be admitted immediately as a state? Yes or No.’ A 52.52 percent majority voted ‘Yes,’ making the referendum the third election within the past ten years in which voters chose statehood,” the letter continued. “The consensus in support of statehood is more clear now than ever. As elected officials who believe in American democracy, we believe it is critical we stand by the free democratic will of the people in open and fair elections.”

The letter references the 2012 and 2017 referenda, in both of which statehood gained the majority. In 2012, statehood opponents focused on ballots that left the question blank. In 2017, anti-statehood factions – many of whom preferred instead fantasy options that had been rejected repeatedly by Federal lawyers and policymakers as “deceptive” and an “unattainable myth” – boycotted the plebiscite. In both cases, they were able to introduce enough confusion to prevent action on the votes.

“On March 2nd, a bipartisan group of members of Congress, including Puerto Rico’s lone non-voting representative – Resident Commissioner Jennifer González-Colón, responded to Puerto Rican voters’ November 2020 mandate by introducing H.R. 1522, the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act,” the letter continues. “The bill is based on the precedent set for admission of states to our Union, mirroring the admission process for Alaska and Hawaii. The process outlined in H.R. 1522, and its Senate companion S. 780, respects Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination as they have expressed at the polls on multiple occasions.”

Request for support

The letter concludes with a request for support for The Puerto Rico Statehood Admissions Bill.

“Puerto Ricans have unquestionably demonstrated their preference for statehood, and we are proud to support them in their fight for equal rights under the law. Ending inequality and racial injustice wherever it is found is of the utmost national importance, and we urge you to consider supporting the expressed wishes of our fellow Americans by signing on to H.R. 1522 as a co-sponsor.”

The letter to the senators asks for support for the Senate companion bill, S 780.

The Rhode Island Congressional Delegation

The senators for Rhode Island are Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). Whitehouse tweeted that he “would support statehood for Washington DC and Puerto Rico if either of those proposals came up for a vote in the Senate.”

The members of Congress for Rhode Island are David Cicilline (D-RI) and Jim Langevin (D-RI). Cicilline was a co-sponsor of HR 4901, a previous Puerto Rico Statehood Admission bill. Langevin is already a cosponsor of HR 1522.

Rhode Island has had a Puerto Rican population since the 1920s, and the numbers have increased significantly in the 21st century. About one third of the Hispanic population in Rhode Island is Puerto Rican. In 2013, the National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City was dedicated to the State of Rhode Island.

Read the full letters:

Letter to RI House Delegation re HR 1522

Letter to RI Senate Delegation re S.780

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