Are Puerto Ricans American Citizens? – Legislated Citizenship can be reversed

{See – Citizenship In The American Empire – The truth is that Puerto Ricans asked to be liberated and to be USA Citizens. That if Puerto Rico vote for separation, will loose its Citizen Rights. See Congressional Research Service Reports.}

Are Puerto Ricans American Citizens?

Puerto Ricans have been granted three different types of U.S. citizenship over the years, but questions remain about their rights and equal treatment as citizens.

By The Conversation, Contributor | March 3, 2017, at 9:49 a.m.

Are Puerto Ricans American Citizens?
A pedestrian walks along a street in Old San Juan a day after the Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla gave a televised speech on June 30, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Today, being born in Puerto Rico is tantamount to being born in the United States. (JOE RAEDLE/GETTY IMAGES)

By Charles R. Venator-Santiago

In a recent poll, 41 percent of respondents said they did not believe that Puerto Ricans were U.S. citizens, and 15 percent were not sure. Only 43 percent answered that Puerto Ricans were U.S. citizens. Today, being born in Puerto Rico is tantamount to being born in the United States. But it wasn’t always that way, and a lot of ambiguity still remains. The Conversation

Contrary to what many people believe, the Jones Act, which Congress passed 100 years ago, was neither the first nor last citizenship statute for Puerto Ricans. Since 1898, Congress has debated 101 bills related to citizenship in Puerto Rico and enacted 11 overlapping citizenship laws. Over time, these bills have conferred three different types of citizenship to persons born in Puerto Rico.

I’m part of an ongoing collaborative project that seeks to document and clarify the laws around citizenship for Puerto Ricans. For the first time, we’re making available to the public all citizenship legislation that has been debated between 1898 and today in a web-based archive.

These archives show that U.S. law still describes Puerto Rico as an unincorporated territory that can be selectively treated as a foreign country in a constitutional sense. This contradiction is at the heart of a range of discriminatory laws and policies used to govern Puerto Rico and the more than 3.5 million U.S. citizens living on the island.

The State of Puerto Rico

Debates over the citizenship status of persons born in Puerto Rico are usually centered around the territorial status of Puerto Rico.

The United States annexed Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War of 1898. Between 1898 and 1901, U.S. academics, lawmakers and other government officials began to invent a new tradition of territorial expansionism. It enabled them to strategically annex territories throughout the world like Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Mariana Islands, for military and economic purposes without binding Congress to grant them statehood. To support this effort, they also created interpretations of the Constitution that would allow them to govern Puerto Rico and the other territories annexed during the Spanish-American War.

As the Supreme Court first established in Downes v. Bidwell (1901), territories annexed after 1898, those mostly inhabited by nonwhite populations or so-called “alien races,” would be ruled as “unincorporated territories,” or territories that were not meant to become states.

De qué te sirve en la separación? Serás el último? El Congreso le puede quitar la Ciudadan;ia Americana a los PR’s.

In Downes, the court was asked to rule on the constitutionality of a tariff on goods trafficked between the island of Puerto Rico and the mainland imposed by the Foraker Act, a territorial law enacted to govern Puerto Rico in 1900. Opponents of the tariff argued it violated the Uniformity Clause of the Constitution, which barred tariffs on goods trafficked within the United States. A majority of the justices, however, concluded that Puerto Rico was not a part of the U.S. for the purposes of the Uniformity Clause and affirmed the tariff. In effect, the U.S. treated Puerto Rico as a foreign country.

A lingering question in this case was, how does the Constitution apply to unincorporated territories? Specifically, does the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment apply?

Are Puerto Ricans Constitutional Citizens?

Supreme Court Justice Edward D. White attempted to answer this question when he wrote a concurring opinion in Downes v. Bidwell. His opinion is regarded by scholars as the source of the doctrine on territorial incorporation. The doctrine contains three basic elements.

First, it recognizes a difference between incorporated territories – those meant to become states – and unincorporated territories.

Second, Congress is granted absolute power to enact legislation extending or withholding constitutional provisions. In other words, only fundamental constitutional rights are guaranteed in unincorporated territories, not the full application of civil rights.

Third, unincorporated territories can be selectively governed as foreign locations in a constitutional sense. That means that so long as Congress is not violating the fundamental constitutional rights of Puerto Ricans, Congress can choose to treat Puerto Rico as a foreign country for legal purposes.

The prevailing consensus to this day is in line with White’s interpretation – that the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment does not extend to Puerto Rico. Since the Downes ruling, for 116 years, Congress has governed Puerto Rico as a separate and unequal territory.

The Foraker Act at the heart of the Downes case had also imposed Puerto Rican citizenship on persons born in Puerto Rico. People who were born in Spain and residing in Puerto Rico were allowed to retain their Spanish citizenship, acquire Puerto Rican citizenship or U.S. citizenship. Island-born were barred from retaining their Spanish citizenship, the citizenship that they acquired while Puerto Rico was a province of Spain, and from acquiring a U.S. citizenship.

But there was a big problem. At the time, persons seeking to naturalize and become U.S. citizens were required to first renounce their allegiance to a sovereign state. For Puerto Rican citizens, this meant renouncing their allegiance to the U.S. in order to acquire U.S. citizenship. This contradiction effectively barred Puerto Ricans from acquiring U.S. citizenship.

In 1906, Congress added a section in the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization Act that waived the requirement to renounce an allegiance to a sovereign state. As my research shows, in 1906 Puerto Ricans began to naturalize in U.S. district courts throughout the mainland.

The Jones Act of 1917 included a collective citizenship provision. It enabled people living in Puerto Rico to choose between keeping their Puerto Rican or other citizenship, or acquiring a U.S. citizenship. Because the Jones Act did not change Puerto Rico’s territorial status, persons subsequently born on the island were considered U.S. citizens by way of “jus sanguinis” (blood right), a derivative form of U.S. citizenship. In other words, persons born in Puerto Rico were born outside of the United States but still considered U.S. citizens.

It wasn’t until 1940 that Congress enacted legislation conferring birthright, or “jus soli,” (right of soil) citizenship on persons born in Puerto Rico. Whereas persons born in Puerto Rico prior to 1940 could only acquire a naturalized citizenship if their parents were U.S. citizens, anyone born in Puerto Rico after 1940 acquired a U.S. citizenship as a direct result of being born on Puerto Rican soil. This legislation both amended and replaced the Jones Act. The Nationality Act of 1940 established that Puerto Rico was a part of the United States for citizenship purposes. Since Jan. 13, 1941, birth in Puerto Rico amounts to birth in the United States for citizenship purposes.

However, the prevailing consensus among scholars, lawmakers and policymakers is that Puerto Ricans are not entitled to a constitutional citizenship status. While Puerto Ricans are officially U.S. citizens, the territory remains unincorporated. This contradiction has enabled the governance of Puerto Rico as a separate and unequal territory that belongs to, but is not a part of, the United States.

On June 11, Puerto Ricans will vote in a nonbinding status plebiscite deciding whether Puerto Rico should become a state or a sovereign country. If a majority votes for statehood, the question is whether Congress will grant 3.5 million U.S. citizens the ability to live in the 51st state.

This article was written by Charles R. Venator-Santiago, associate professor of political science and the Institute for Latino Studies, University of Connecticut, for The Conversation. It has been republished with permission.

Tags: United States, Puerto Rico, Supreme Court, legislation


The 1917 Jones Act: Puerto Ricans as U.S. Citizens

I wrote this piece in 2011. It still resonates today.

The history of Puerto Rico is complex. As the island enters its 113th year as a territory colony of the United States, the interdependencies between the U.S. and Puerto Rico weren’t, and never will be, a simple matter. It is a history of paradoxes and complications regarding political identity and basic human rights of self-government.

Puerto Rico’s first administrative cabinet under the Jones Act of 1917

Take, for example, the 1917 Jones Act, an act of Congress that granted U.S. citizenship to all Puerto Ricans born on the island. (Important sidenote: Unknown to many, this is not a Constitutional act, but it would take a Supreme Court act to revoke the right.) The Jones Act, signed by President Woodrow Wilson on March 2, 1917, not only established U.S. citizenship for Puerto Ricans on the island, it also created a new form of government. As the following states (source: Library of Congress):

The Jones Act separated the Executive, Judicial, and Legislative branches of Puerto Rican government, provided civil rights to the individual, and created a locally elected bicameral legislature. The two houses were a Senate consisting of 19 members and a 39-member House of Representatives. However, the Governor and the President of the United States had the power to veto any law passed by the legislature. Also, the United States Congress had the power to stop any action taken by the legislature in Puerto Rico. The U.S. maintained control over fiscal and economic matters and exercised authority over mail services, immigration, defense and other basic governmental matters.

There are so many contradictions in the act that many people are unaware about and we would like to make some clarifications:

  • Even though Puerto Ricans have the right to govern themselves, in the end the Governor of Puerto Rico and the U.S. government still have to power to veto and control any legislation on the island. That is a huge concession of power and rights.
  • History has stated that Puerto Ricans did not request for citizenship at the time. In fact, the member of Congress representing the island in 1917, Luis Muñoz Rivera, questioned such imposition in late 1916, basically telling Congress that Puerto Ricans would prefer Puerto Rican citizenship.
  • The U.S. still has control over several basic government services that in any other form of government, would be under the jurisdiction of a local government. In the end, Puerto Ricans gained U.S. citizenship, but never gained much more, except for the right to freely travel with a U.S. passport and also freely live in any other part of the United States.
  • History also suggests that the United States needed more men for WWI. After Wilson signed the Jones Act and after the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, military conscription was passed in June, 1917. This meant that as U.S. citizens, eligible Puerto Rican males were drafted into the armed forces. Over 2,000 Puerto Ricans were drafted to serve at the very beginning. In the end, it was estimated that 18,000 Puerto Ricans served in World War I. Most of them went to the Panama Canal, but some Puerto Ricans, like musician Rafael Hernández, proudly served on the Western Front. Puerto Ricans who were not eligible were sent to labor camps in the South.

The issue of U.S. citizenship for Puerto Ricans has always been a study in paradoxes. For example, a Puerto Rican-born individual who lives in the United States could vote in U.S. elections, like the ones for President, but that same person could not vote in those elections if living in Puerto Rico. The same goes for federal taxes. If you are Puerto Rican-born and live in the U.S., you have to file a federal tax return. On the island, though, a Puerto Rican does not have to file a return.

In general, it is safe to say that most Puerto Ricans value the benefits that a U.S. citizenship has bestowed on them. However, Puerto Ricans still fall into a second tier of U.S. citizens, when compared to their fellow American citizens. Issues of civil and human rights (noted by the U.S. crackdown on Puerto Rican Nationalists who never truly had the right to free assembly after tensions arose in the 1940s and 1950s) are still valid concerns.

As the island begins to yet again explore the political direction it wants to take, the question of whether Puerto Ricans would trade in their U.S. citizenship for Puerto Rican citizenship will always be open for debate and dissection. Four generations have passed since the Jones Act became law, and for a certain group of U.S. citizens, full constitutional rights have yet to be achieved.


See – Citizenship In The American Empire

Marcha En Contra de los Aumentos y Abusos

Lo ultimo en política de Puerto Rico/USA

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