The case for Puerto Rico statehood
The reasons for Puerto Rico statehood are simple and compelling. A majority of Puerto Rican voters yet again chose statehood in November 2020. The ballot was a clear “yes or no” question in a high turnout general election. They cast their vote after suffering through a long recession, deadly hurricanes, powerful earthquakes, fiscal board budget cuts and now COVID-19. Many believe that two U.S. senators and four U.S. representatives will help them greatly in resolving these crises.
The opposition is far more complicated to decipher.
First, there is the fictional concept of an “enhanced commonwealth.” This “having it all without paying for it” option is promoted as an upgrade to the current status but is found nowhere in our Constitution. It presumes Puerto Rico can get all the benefits of a state without ever becoming one. Of course, the federal government will never agree to such chicanery. Its support is found mostly by a minority of Puerto Ricans on the island.
Second, there is independence. The peak of hypocrisy, this movement is predominantly supported by Puerto Ricans living stateside. Many in the Puerto Rican diaspora have forgotten the realities of an island that does not enjoy the full advantages of the states where past generations have settled. They disguise their stalling tactics in attention grabbing and misleading phrases like “self-determination” or “considering all options.” They confuse and muddy the issue, hoping that most Puerto Rican voters will one day change their minds. They won’t. The vast majority of Puerto Ricans prize their American citizenship, serve in the military in higher percentages than most states and enjoy a quality of life boosted by billions in federal funding.
Election after election has proven a clear consensus: it is time to right the historic wrong of colonialism by paving the way for Puerto Ricans to enjoy the full rights of their U.S. citizenship and gain the representation they deserve. Statehood is ultimately the best, most likely option. The bipartisan Puerto Rico Statehood Admissions Act would bring that option to fruition. Delay tactics like Status Conventions only doom Puerto Rico to more endless debates, minority rule and another generation of second-class citizens living under a failed territorial status.
Should the current status be preserved, Puerto Ricans will continue navigating their economic challenges without protections afforded to states. Their medical system will continue suffering as federal funding continues falling short of their needs. While these problems are being debated in Congress, statehood offers a simple solution that would enable Puerto Rico to finally be on stable ground as it recovers from natural disasters and fiscal issues. It would not absolve them responsibility but would offer paths to reform that could result in a more robust economy and a prospering people.
The American citizens living in Puerto Rico have spoken. It is time we listened and empowered them, not undermined their democratic process. They cannot afford to wait. Ignoring the will of voters only perpetuates 120 years of injustice, and we must do better. This is an issue of democracy and of guaranteeing equality for citizens. Delaying admittance of Puerto Rico as a state to our Union would be a direct contradiction of our nation’s democratic values.
It’s time to move forward and pass the bipartisan Puerto Rico Statehood Admissions Act.
Darren Soto represents Florida’s 9th District. Jenniffer González Colón is resident commissioner of Puerto Rico.
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