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Violence in Puerto Rico – Could Statehood Help?

Violence in Puerto Rico continues to rise, in contrast to falling levels of violent crime on the mainland. Does the status of Puerto Rico affect the problem?

Puerto Rico currently has a homicide rate 500% higher than that of the mainland United States. Last year, it was estimated that 70% of Puerto Rico’s violent crime was drug-related. Puerto Rico is appealing to drug cartels because the island offers easy access to U.S. drug consumers.

It makes sense, then, to compare the federal commitment to protecting Puerto Rico from drug-related violence, compared with the commitment in border states like Texas, New Mexico, and California.

According to the 2011 National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy report from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, there were a number of strong actions taken on the Southwestern border of the United States:

  • Congress appropriated $1.4 billion to Mexicofor an anti-drug partnership.
  • Congress dedicated $600 million to enhance border protection.
  • The U.S. Customs and Border Protection more than doubled its agents since 2004.
  • The Drug Enforcement Administration has allocated nearly 30% of its domestic agents to the Southwest border.
  • The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency increased its agents on the border by almost 300 since 2010.
  • President Obama authorized the deployment of over 1,000 National Guard troops to the Southwest border
  • The Department of Homeland Security operates a Predator Unmanned Aircraft System along the entire Southwest border.
  • A leadership group composed of over 20 federal agencies holds strategic meetings about this issue several times a year.

By contrast, this is the federal commitment to Puerto Rico:

  • While there is also a  National Northern Border Counternarcotics Strategy, there is no comparable strategy or strategy document covering Puerto Rico.
  • Puerto Rico receives less than $50 million a year in direct federal funding for drug abuse prevention, investigations, prosecution, and interdiction.
  • In spite of requests for additional assistance, the number of government agents has stayed about the same in Puerto Rico.
  • The Coast Guard has only four helicopters in all of Puerto Rico – fewer than in the city of Miami.
  • There are extraordinarily high vacancy rate in federal agencies in Puerto Rico – 39% at Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), 12% at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and 15% at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The people of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens, just as the people of Florida and Texas are. What’s the difference between Puerto Rico and the states which have so much more U.S. protection?

  • The four states (CA, AZ, NM and TX) which touch the border with Mexico send eight Senators and almost 100 House Members to Washington to represent them.
  • The ten states directly touching Canada (WA, ID, MT, ND, MN, MI, NU, VT, NH and ME) send 20 Senators and approximately 90 House Members to represent them.
  • Puerto Rico has one non-voting Resident Commissioner.

Were Puerto Rico to become independent, the United States might be expected to make passage from Puerto Rico to the mainland more difficult, which would help protect the states from violence but do nothing to help Puerto Rico. Were Puerto Rico to become the 51st state of the Union, new voting representation in Washington would advocate for more protections. As it stands, the federal government can provide exactly the level of protection that it chooses to provide with no accountability to Puerto Rico.

National publications has weighed in to this debate for months.  “To the 3.7 million Americans living in Puerto Rico, Washington’s inaction on the violent Puerto Rican drug trade signals that federal protections afforded to US citizens do not fully convey outside the 50 states.  The federal government must step up to the plate and ensure that all of its borders are secure and all of its citizens are safe…. As the magnitude of the crisis grows, so does the necessity for Washington’s help.” (Christian Science Monitor; February 16, 2012)

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