Are Puerto Ricans living in the territory really full U.S. citizens?

The answer is no. At least not in the same or an equal sense compared to Puerto Ricans who are U.S. citizens based on birth or residence in a state of the union. Only persons with U.S. nationality and citizenship who also are citizens of a state have real U.S. citizenship under the U.S. Constitution.

That is the only accurate answer under the 1904 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Gonzales v. Williams. That ruling held that all persons born in Puerto Rico or any other “organized but not incorporated” U.S. territory were not aliens under federal immigration law. Rather, persons born in a U.S. territory but not a state have the legal status of U.S. nationality, or “U.S. nationals,” while residing in a territory.

U.S. nationals born in four U.S. territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Marianas, U.S. Virgin Islands) are also classified by federal territorial and nationality statute law as “citizens.” However, residents of those four territories classified under statute as “citizens” have the same legal status and limited rights while in a territory as “U.S. nationals” born in a fifth territory (American Samoa).

Only by residing in a state of the union and acquiring the rights of state citizenship do U.S. nationals born in Puerto Rico, Guam Northern Marianas and USVI acquire full and equal rights of U.S. national citizenship under the U.S. Constitution. To acquire full citizenship rights U.S. nationals from American Samoa must apply for statutory reclassification as “citizens” conditional upon residence in a state.

Only if Puerto Rico becomes a state or part of an existing state will U.S. nationals in Puerto Rico already misleadingly classified by federal statute as ”citizens” acquire full and equal rights of real U.S. nationality and citizenship.

What do “nationality” and “citizenship” mean?

To answer this question it first must be understood that under federal law the terms “nationality” and “citizenship” sometimes have the same meaning, and sometimes have a different meaning.

As used in the U.S. Constitution to refer to national legal status under federal law the term “citizenship” also means “nationality.”

In addition to U.S. nationality and citizenship conferred under the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Congress can confer a national legal status under federal statute law on persons who do not acquire it directly under the U.S. Constitution itself.

When conferred by federal statute law, the national legal status defined by Congress can be classified as “nationality” or “U.S. national” status, or it can be classified as “citizenship” As used in federal statute laws passed by Congress, “nationality” and the legal status of a “U.S. national” may or may not also be classified as citizenship.

This statutory nomenclature for national legal status conferred by under federal statute law can be summarized and best understood by the maxim, “All citizens are nationals but not all nationals are citizens.” In contrast, under the U.S. Constitution for persons with state as well as national citizenship the applicable maxim is “All nationals are citizens and all citizens are nationals”

What is U.S. citizenship?

In 1868 the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted. For the first time since the U.S. Constitution itself entered into force in 1789, conferral of U.S. national citizenship was no longer determined by Congress in the exercise of its powers under the Uniform Naturalization Clause in Article I, Section 8. Also for for the first time since 1789, conferral of citizenship of a state was no longer determined by state governments in the exercise of powers under state constitutions.

Instead, Section 1 of the 14th Amendment confers U.S. national citizenship to all persons born in a state of the union. Section 1 also confers citizenship of each state to all legal residents of the state. Under Section 1 the acquisition of national citizenship based on birth in a state and state citizenship based on residence in a state is universal and automatic by operation of the 14th Amendment, beyond the reach or power of denial by Congress or any state government.

The only exception to automatic universal birthright citizenship for those born in a state under Section 1 is that Congress can exercise its power to exclude from birthright nation citizenship and state citizenship under the 14th Amendment persons designated under federal law as outside and excluded from the reach of U.S. federal legal jurisdiction.

Finally, Section 1 of the 14th Amendment does not repeal Article. I, Section 8, Clause 4 of the U.S. Constitution, also known as the Uniform Naturalization Clause. That is because the intent of the 14th Amendment was to allow Congress to retain discretion for conferral of U.S. nationality and statutory classifications of citizenship on persons who do not acquire in based on birth in a state.

Accordingly, the provisions of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment confer U.S. national citizenship on persons “naturalized” in a state (i.e. granted citizenship by statute rather than direct operation of the 14th Amendment). Naturalization in a state by statute under the Uniform Naturalization Clause also confers citizenship in any state of residence.

What is the source of nationality and citizenship for people born in Puerto Rico?

The Foraker Act of 1900 referred to the residents of the territory as “citizens of Puerto Rico.” The 1904 ruling in the Gonzales v. Williams case recognized that citizens of the territory were also U.S. nationals under federal law, and could travel between the territory and the states as non-immigrants as long as Congress allows, subject to such regulation of travel and other rights as Congress may impose.

In a 1917 territorial statute reorganizing the territory government the U.S. Congress reclassified the nationality of persons born in Puerto Rico as “citizenship.” In 1922 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Balzac case that the statutory “citizenship” granted by Congress did not change the status of Puerto Rico from that of a territory “organized but not incorporated” under the U.S. Constitution.

That meant that “citizenship” in the territory was constitutionally indistinguishable form “national” status for residents of the territory. The Balzac ruling explicitly recognized that “U.S. citizens” born in Puerto Rico could relocate to a state to enjoy full and equal rights of U.S. citizenship available under the U.S. Constitution based on combined national and state citizenship. Those equal rights include federal voting rights and representation under Article I and II of the U.S. Constitution.

Beginning in a series of federal immigration and nationality statutes enacted under the Uniform Naturalization Clause, Congress confers U.S. national citizenship of persons who do not acquire it under the 14th Amendment based on birth in a state. See Title 48 U.S. Code, Section 1401-1408, conferring U.S. citizenship based on birth outside the U.S. to parents who are U.S. citizens.

Those naturalization provisions also confer U.S. citizenship on persons born in specific U.S. territories not within a state, including Puerto Rico. These statutory naturalization provisions preserve the status of persons born in Puerto Rico and other organized territories as defined under the 1904 ruling in Gonzales v. Williams, and in the 1922 ruling in the Balzac case.

That means the only way U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico can become real U.S. citizens is for Puerto Rico to become a state or part of an existing state, or for those citizens to relocate to as state, in order to acquire full rights of equal citizenship secured by the U.S. Constitution only for persons who qualify to vote in a state based on state as well and national citizenship.

One Comment

Jorge A Rivera

“Only persons with U.S. nationality and citizenship who also are citizens of a state have real U.S. citizenship under the U.S. Constitution. ¿Does that mean that American Citizens residing in Europe or South America ARE NOT really citizens?

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.