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Puerto Rico Status Act Reintroduced

On Thursday, April 20, 2023, House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AR) was joined by Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR), Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL), Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) and Governor of Puerto Rico Pedro R. Pierluisi to re-introduce the Puerto Rico Status Act.

The Puerto Rico Status Act represents an offer from the U.S. Congress to the people of Puerto Rico to determine their own political future. The legislation, which was first introduced by Ranking Member Grijalva last year, previously passed the House on a bipartisan basis on Dec. 15, 2022.

The legislation would set the standards for a new referendum vote – technically known as a plebiscite – to end the island’s current status as a U.S. territory.  The ballot would offer the people of Puerto Rico a choice between statehood and nationhood.  The nationhood option would be further divided into two parts, one labeled “independence,” and the other which explicitly leaves open the possibility that Puerto Rico and the U.S. government could create a “free association” arrangement between the two sovereign countries.

Current free association arrangements, which exist in three Pacific Island nations, are premised on extensive U.S. military access and presence in these friendly countries in rough exchange for national security protections and special immigration rights for the citizens of those nations.

There were no major structural changes announced to the current bill from last year’s version.  In 2022, critics pushed back especially hard on the limits the bill would place on the ability of Puerto Ricans to continue to qualify for U.S. citizenship in a new sovereign nation of Puerto Rico.  The bill passed by the House of Representatives last year was clear that U.S. citizenship would be  “recognized, protected, and secured” only under the statehood option.

Other critics complained that the proposed plebiscite ballot should include a “Commonwealth” option. This term has increasingly fallen out of favor due to its many, often conflicting, definitions, many of which promise more rights and benefits than are possible under the current territorial status.  Federal officials have expressed concern over the term.

Updated on April 20, 2023


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