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Statehood for Puerto Rico Now!
About 1,000 miles southeast of Miami, Florida is The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. This tiny Caribbean island, which means “rich port” in Spanish is a U.S. territory. On March 2, 1917, Its inhabitants became United States citizens by the Jones-Shafroth Act of Congress when Puerto Rico became a U.S. Territory. The decision to make Puerto Rico a state, or independent nation, or remain as a U.S. territory has been hotly debated over the years. Proponents and opponents of statehood have made legitimate points for and against statehood.
On Election Day 2020, Puerto Ricans made a statement to the U.S. Congress by electing pro-statehood Pedro Pierluisi as its governor. Also on the ballot was the vote to become a state. According to Ballotpedia.org, 52.34 percent, or 623,053 voters, voted in favor of statehood. This is the fifth time since 1967 that the residents of Puerto Rico took to the ballots to decide its fate with statehood.
WHY IT IS A MUST
Puerto Rico, becoming the 51st or 52nd state, may resolve the fiscal crisis that had been plaguing the island. Forty-five percent of the population of Puerto are living at or below the poverty level. According to an online article in Digital Journal (Puerto Rico votes for statehood, but does this matter to anyone? (digitaljournal.com), In 2017, the Puerto Rico’s bond-debt had grown to an astounding $70 billion or $12,000 per capita. This was at a time when the unemployment rate was 12.4 percent.” With gaining statehood, Puerto Rico would have equal access to federal funds for many social programs, including Medicaid, and public housing subsidies.
If Puerto Rico becomes a state, it would be the 29th most populous state in the United States. With over 3 million U.S. Citizens, Puerto Rico has no real representation in the U.S. government. Statehood would automatically grant them two senators in the U.S. Senate, and a proportional amount of congressman in the House of Representatives.
Jenniffer González, a Republican, was reelected as Puerto Rico's commissioner on November 3, 2020, and is Puerto Rico's only representative in Congress, but does not have a vote in Congress. She says that while Puerto Rico is supposed to be a Commonwealth, many Puerto Ricans say the island is constantly treated as a colony. "Sometimes it's a little bit ironic that the beacon of democracy in the world, which is the United States, is fighting for equality and fighting for democracy and yet you get it in your own backyard -- the oldest colony, with more than 120 years without allowing Puerto Ricans to vote for president, to vote in Congress or to even have federal laws apply equally to American citizens on the island," Gonzalez said.
In the 2018 House Resolution 6246, it was written, “the Federal Government may, and often does, treat the United States citizens residing in Puerto Rico unequally under most Federal programs and other laws applicable to the several States and their residents. In its December 14, 2016, Report to Congress, the Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico established that the territory is not treated equally with the States under more than 40 Federal statutes.” Had the HR 6246 been enacted, Puerto Rico would have become the 51st state by 2021.
FOR & AGAINST
In support of statehood is the New Progressive Party which currently controls both the executive branch and legislative branch of the government. Opposing statehood are the Popular Democratic Party and the Puerto Rican Independence Party. The Popular Democratic Party advocates for territorial autonomy, while the Puerto Rican Independence Party, obviously as the name states, advocates for total independence.
Should Puerto Rico gain statehood, the Democratic Party would presumably pick up two members in the Senate which could total 4 senators should efforts succeed to grant the District of Columbia statehood as well. This could possibly leave control of the Senate to the Democratic Party for years to come. As you may easily guess, Republicans on Capitol Hill have opposed statehood for both territories to halt the tilt to the Democrats. Republicans in state legislatures across the country are already moving to pass state legislation restricting voter access in hopes of flipping or maintaining their grip on critical states. For Puerto Rico to become a state, it must pass both houses of Congress with a majority vote. Currently, the Democratic Party has a slim control in the House of Representatives, and a tie-breaker vote in the Senate.
Puerto Rico becoming a state is a fundamental issue. American citizens should have equal treatment, equal rights, and equal opportunity to participate or have a say in the government making decision for them. The time is now for Puerto Rico to become a state, to not do so is un-American.