The Puerto Rico Status Act, a legislative proposal pending before Congress, makes some specific claims about citizenship.
In a state, of course, U.S. citizenship will be secure as it is for any state.
Under independence, the bill provides that “Puerto Rico has full authority and responsibility over its citizenship and immigration laws, and birth in Puerto Rico or relationship to persons with statutory United States citizenship by birth in the former territory shall cease to be a basis for United States nationality or citizenship, except that persons who have such United States citizenship have a right to retain United States nationality and citizenship for life, by entitlement or election as provided by Federal law.”
This makes it clear that being the child of a person with statutory citizenship will not be the basis of continued U.S. citizenship across generations.
Under the free association option, the statement is slightly different: “Puerto Rico has full authority and responsibility over its citizenship and immigration laws, and persons who have United States citizenship have a right to retain United States nationality and citizenship for life by entitlement or election as provided by Federal law. Birth in Puerto Rico shall cease to be a basis for United States nationality or citizenship. Individuals born in Puerto Rico to parents both of whom are United States citizens shall be United States citizens at birth, consistent with the immigration laws of the United States, for the duration of the first agreement of the Articles of Free Association.”
This provides that children with two parents who are U.S. citizens may continue U.S. citizenship under a yet-to-be-agreed-upon compact of free association, even though children born to a single parent in Puerto Rico would clearly not have this option.
Would these be laws of Puerto Rico, or of the United States?
Each sovereign nation controls its own citizenship laws, and cannot control those of any other nation. A vote by the U.S. Congress cannot force a new nation of Puerto Rico to abide by any particular laws. If, once a head of government for the new nation of Puerto Rico has been elected, the Republic of Puerto Rico decides not to allow dual citizenship for citizens of Puerto Rico, the United States will have no ability to change that.
Equally, if the United States should change its citizenship laws, which has already been done hundreds of times, Puerto Rico cannot refuse to accept those changes.
Carmen Yulin Cruz told El Nuevo Día that she has concerns about the Act, including the fact that Puerto Rico would be subject to different rules when it comes to citizenship. Why, she asked, will children of Puerto Ricans be treated differently from the children of Americans born in other independent countries?
The obvious answer is that Puerto Rico will not be included within the United States. People who were born in the territory of Puerto Rico have statutory U.S. citizenship. Should they be able to pass that along to their descendants in perpetuity after Puerto Rico stops being a part of the United States?
Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) says that is “the bare minimum” the United States should do, as a form of reparations for past mistreatment of Puerto Ricans. This is a valid sentiment, but it is not a legal reality.
Treating Puerto Rico differently in this case would not be a matter of treating Puerto Rico differently from other independent nations, as Yulin Cruz said. Someone born in Florida who had a child born in Puerto Rico would be subject to the same laws as if their child were born in Canada. This difference is in the citizenship of the parents if they were born in Puerto Rico.
Children born abroad to U.S. citizens
Under The Puerto Rico Status Act, a woman born in the Dominican Republic who married a man born in Puerto Rico and had a child in a newly sovereign Puerto Rico could not expect U.S. citizenship for her child. Even if there is a signed articles of free association, the Act says that both parents must be U.S. citizens, which would not be the case.
This may appear to to be an arbitrary rule, but it could be replaced by something even more limiting as the Articles of Free Association were negotiated. For example, members of Congress as well as the Supreme Court and the executive branch have said many times over the years that the United States would not be willing to accept U.S. citizenship for virtually all the citizens of a foreign sovereign nation, regardless of the historical relationship.
A nation of Puerto Rico with the ability to pass on U.S. citizenship in perpetuity to descendants would create a block of U.S. citizens larger than Vermont, Wyoming, and Montana combined. Their influence on the United States could be far greater than the influence a foreign country can expect to have on a sovereign nation.