Statehood for Puerto Rico

On the question of "should Puerto Rico be immediately admitted into the Union as a state," on the November 2020 ballot; 623,053 voted yes, or 52.34% of voters.

by Susan E. Stutz

Political cartoon featuring Trump failing at helping Puerto RicoPolitical cartoon featuring Trump failing at helping Puerto Rico

Caglecartoons.com

On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm, leaving 3,000 dead and record breaking destruction in its wake. Just weeks before, hurricanes Irma and Harvey hit Florida and Texas. Both states and Puerto Rico turned to the federal government for aid. While aid was fairly quickly distributed to Florida and Texas, the same could not be said for Puerto Rico. It is believed by some that the delays in providing aid were in no small part a result of “congressional negotiations seeking to prove the territory had insufficient assets and required financial assistance.” It was not enough to see the utter destruction of Puerto Rico on the news day after day, but Congress added insult to injury by suggesting, and trying to prove, that she could pay for the damage herself.

It is not hard to imagine how different the outcome for Puerto Rico may have been had she had congressional representation fighting on her behalf. In actuality, had Puerto Rico been a state instead of a territory, the fallout from Hurricane Maria would have been more in line with the responses given to Florida and Texas. The argument in support of statehood for Puerto Rico was never so important or strong as it was following Hurricane Maria. And, with an incoming administration that is bluer than it was two months ago, the time is ripe for making Puerto Rico a state and giving to her the benefits that come along with it.

As a territory, Puerto Rico’s status is a holdover of colonialism’s racist policies and the 1868 Spanish American war that resulted in the United States having dominion over the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. In fact, she is the world’s oldest colony. Puerto Rico’s subjugation was affirmed in the 1901 Supreme Court opinion that labeled her residents as an “alien race.”

Her 3 million residents have many of the responsibilities of a state but few of its benefits. They are considered US citizens and pay into Social Security and medicare. Collectively, they contribute $4 billion per year to the U.S. treasury via payroll taxes. Despite that, they have no representation in Washington nor do they enjoy a vote on what happens there.

While we were voting in the presidential, congressional, and state levels races on November 3rd, citizens of Puerto Rico also went to the polls on the issue of whether or not they want statehood for their territory—52.34% of her citizens voted in the affirmative. This is the sixth time that Puerto Rico has voted on this topic. In 1967, 1993, and 1998 the referendum failed to pass. In 2012, 2017, and 2020, the majority of voters voted for statehood. And, some of the arguments for and against statehood center on national identity and the benefits of being a part of a collective.

On the one hand you have Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, a member of the New Progressive Party, who argues that “all the crises that Puerto Rico had suffered during the prior four years, including hurricanes, earthquakes, the coronavirus pandemic, and the fiscal crisis, demonstrate the urgency of achieving equality with the states.” She added, “That is why we cannot wait any longer to receive from Washington the same treatment that is received in the rest of the nation. There is strength in the union, particularly in moments of collective crisis.”

On the other hand, you have individuals such as Juan Dalmau, a member of the Puerto Rican Independent Party, who supports independence from the United States, and argues that, “Puerto Ricans are not willing to give up being what we are. To the plebiscite question, do you want to give up your Puerto Rican nationality? The resounding answer will be ‘No!’”

In recent years, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has rejected the idea of statehood for Puerto Rico (and D.C) out of the fear of adding legislators to Congress who would lean left. But, McConnell is no longer at the helm of the Senate and Democrats hold all three arms of power in D.C. As such, the time has come to close the door on yet another racist policy in this country and give her citizens what they have now voted three times in favor of: statehood. If Puerto Rico wants to be a part of the United States, then that wish should be granted.

What you can do

Send congressContact your U.S. Senators & U.S. House representative to 50409 and encourage your legislator to grant full statehood to Puerto Rico.

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