The issue of the political status of the United States territory of Puerto Rico has been sitting in the backroom of the American political system since the beginning of the 20th century. For too long, lawmakers from both national political parties have neglected the matter. Their preferred excuse? Let the Puerto Ricans decide their future. Well, last November we decided our path in a special status referendum. Now is time to act.
Official results from the Puerto Rico State Electoral Commission stated that 54 percent — 970,910 out of 1,798,987 — of eligible electors voted "no" to the current political status. Furthermore, 61 percent of the people — 834,191 — voted in favor of our island joining the Union as the 51st state.
Accordingly, two weeks ago, our sole delegate to Congress, Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, submitted a bill in the House of Representatives. House Resolution (H.R.) 2000, known as the Puerto Rico Admission Act, is an historic piece of legislation which will pave the way for statehood.
The ball is in this Congress’s court now.
The successful passing of this reform will give those immigrants the same rights as any U.S. citizen living in the United States, including the right to vote for the president and their representation in Congress. For all intents and purposes, the bill will give the illegal immigrants statehood. This is exactly what we want for the almost 3.7 million people, who are U.S. citizens, residing in Puerto Rico.
H.R. 2000 is an opportunity for Congress to finally tackle the issue of the world’s oldest colony without any pretext.
Politics have always interacted with all previous efforts to solve Puerto Rico’s status issue. Both Democrats and Republicans have pushed forward theirs own interests, not Puerto Rico’s. The time has come to put the people’s interests first.
Our political system is based in the democratic process, in which voters decide their leaders through the ballots. Well, the American citizens in Puerto Rico voted for statehood. There’s no need to debate or question this result any further. The people have talked.
The Puerto Rico Admission Act will be discussed in the House this summer.
We call on those House members who are now trying to pass immigration reform, including Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), Zoe Lofgren (D- Calif.), John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), John Carter (R-Texas), Sam Johnson (R-Texas), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), and Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), to push hard for the passing this bill. History will remember those who fought for equality to all Americans, no matter where they live.
Recently, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the immigration reform bill 13-5, to the full Senate for a vote. The committee vote was met with cheers of "Yes, we can" by those in the room. We want the same.
It still remembered Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) remarks after the vote in which he stated the “historic” nature of the bill and the “need” to grant legal status to the undocumented immigrants. The same passion displayed by the junior senator from Florida, as well as the other members of the Gang of Eight, is what we need for H.R. 2000.
We urge Rubio, who is rumored to be eyeing a possible presidential bid in 2016, to take on, with the same passion and conviction, the mantle for the bill in the Senate.
If those efforts are made, there’s little question that our island will become the first State to join the Union in the 21st century.
After all, H.R. 2000 is about justice, equality and a promise made to the people of Puerto Rico by President Obama, expressed in a 2011 White House report that detailed a path towards the final resolution of the status issue — a path we followed to the letter.
Hernández is an accountant and former Speaker of the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico.