Congress can no longer ignore that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens from birth and U.S. nationals.
After 119 years as a territory, the final and permanent solution for Puerto Rico’s political relationship with our nation, the United States, is finally one step closer. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has under his consideration the definitions of the status alternatives to be considered on the ballot for the plebiscite about the status of Puerto Rico to be held next June 11. The Department of Justice has to determine if the definitions comply with the U.S. Constitution and pertinent laws.
The U.S. Citizens who reside in Puerto Rico have to choose between statehood (that guarantees the U.S. citizenship) and Independence/Free association without the U.S. citizenship.On March 2, we commemorate the “Centennial of the US Citizenship”, a historic moment that initiated the official process of Puerto Rico’s integration to the culture, social life, economy, legal system and politics of our nation. We must remember that 100 years ago Congress approved the Jones Act of 1917 declaring all residents of Puerto Rico as U.S. citizens.
Another crucial law was the Naturalization Act of 1941 which guaranteed that persons born in a subordinated jurisdiction, including Puerto Rico, would be U.S. citizens by birth. In 1947, the “Law of the Governor Elect” for the election of the first civilian governor of Puerto Rico, expanded the reach of the U.S. Constitution by establishing that the rights, privileges and immunities will be respected in the same degree in the territory as if Puerto Rico was a state of the Union. The U.S. citizenship establishes that Puerto Ricans are American nationals and that our nation, juridical and political, is the USA.
In 1952, the People of Puerto Rico ratified and Congress approved the Constitution of Puerto Rico, similar to the Constitution of the states, which clearly declares “our Union with the USA”. The Preamble of the Constitution of Puerto Rico also states that “We consider as determining factors in our life our citizenship of the United States of America and our aspiration continually to enrich our democratic heritage in the individual and collective enjoyment of its rights and privileges and our loyalty to the principles of the Federal Constitution…”
As such, the U.S. citizenship is part or our profile and defines the Puerto Ricans of the 21st century. Remember that federal laws and many federal programs treat Puerto Rico as a state, that the Federal District Court in Puerto Rico was created under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, that there are multiple federal agencies in the island, and that the integration of the Puerto Rican culture to the national culture are part of our daily life.
We do not settle for an inferior American citizenship, we aspire to a better future for our next generations. As U.S. citizens, we claim full participation in the federal government, equality of civil rights, political and economic stability, socio-economic development and the same responsibilities and benefits as the rest of the nation.
In spite of the achievements as U.S. citizens, the residents of Puerto Rico are subject to a political system that denies “equality” as citizens, since the U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico cannot vote for president and, even though all laws approved by Congress apply to PR, we cannot elect a full congressional representation.
Independence, with or without free association (which is contrary to the American constitutional order) is not an option for 3.4 million U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico. Under either status, we will lose the rights, privileges, immunities, and responsibilities guaranteed by the U.S. citizenship. Keep in mind that the “White House task Forces that considered PR” and the DOJ have expressed that if Puerto Rico chooses independence or Free Association, those born in the new and separate nation will not be American citizens.
The debate within the Popular democratic Party (PPD), the current opposition party, about retaining the U.S. Citizenship under a free associated nation is a political strategy to confuse and persuade their followers, that are not willing to sacrifice their “American citizenship”.
They claim that they “treasure the American citizenship” but their main goal is to have their own “embassies”, negotiate international treaties and even determine which federal agencies and programs apply to Puerto Rico.
The U.S. Declaration of Independence proclaims that “governments derive their legitimate powers by the consent of the People”. Precisely, in the most recent plebiscite held in 2012 in Puerto Rico, with the participation of 81 percent of the electorate, an absolute majority revoked the consent of the governed to the current territorial status, while 61 percent favored statehood for Puerto Rico.
With the commemoration of the “Centennial of American Citizenship for PR”, the moment has arrived to finally discard the status that has become a grave hindrance to Puerto Rico’s economic development and to reaffirm that we want — a permanent union with total equality of responsibilities and the guarantees, security and progress represented by our U.S. citizenship.
Hernán Padilla, MD, former President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors; former Mayor of San Juan, PR; former President of the US Conference of Mayors; and former U.S. Public Delegate to the UN General Assembly (USUN)
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.