Ten Benefits of Statehood for Puerto Rico

U.S. and Puerto Rico flags, by Arturo de la Barrera on Flickr
  1. Right to Vote for Representation in U.S. Congress: Under the current territory status the more than 3 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico only get one member, known as the Resident Commissioner, to represent them in the U.S. House of Representatives and they do not vote on the floor of the House. Territory residents do not get any representation in the U.S. Senate. Under statehood Puerto Rico voters would gain the right to elect between four and five voting Representatives in the House (depending on apportionment) and two Senators in the U.S. Senate. This representation is critical to ensure that the needs, challenges and aspirations of Puerto Rico residents are taken into account in the federal legislative process that makes the laws which all people in Puerto Rico live under.
  2. Right to Vote for the President of the United States: Under the current territory status the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico can not vote for the President of the United States even though they are subject to the decisions and actions of the federal executive branch on a daily basis. Under statehood Puerto Rico voters would gain the right to vote for President, and would be able to send electors to the Electoral College. This would force presidential candidates to campaign in Puerto Rico and incumbent Presidents to be accountable to the needs of their citizens on the island.
  3. Constitutionally Guaranteed Citizenship & Equal Rights: Under the current territory status the U.S. citizenship of individuals born in Puerto Rico isĀ  provided through a federal law, and not as a right guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, only those “fundamental rights” that the Supreme Court has indicated in its decisions apply to U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico. Under statehood all people born in Puerto Rico would have their U.S. citizenship guaranteed under the 14th Amendment, and all Constitutionally guaranteed rights of citizens would apply to people in Puerto Rico on an equal basis.
  4. Rights for Military Service Members and Veteran: Under the current territory status the more than 80,000 veterans, the approximately 10,000 active duty military personnel and approximately 6,000 members of the National Guard that call Puerto Rico home are denied the right to vote for their Commander and Chief. This means that even though they are expected to make the same sacrifices as all other military service members including deployment to combat, they are denied equality when they return home. Under statehood military service members and veterans from Puerto Rico would have equal rights in peace, as they are during service and war.
  5. Equal Treatment Under Federal Laws & Programs: Under the current territory status U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico can and do get treated unequally under federal laws and programs, which results in lower economic performance, lower federal investments on the island and a lower quality of life for its residents. Some of the most egregious examples of this federal inequality include: health benefits for impoverished and elderly people (Medicaid and Medicare); nutritional assistance for low-income families (SNAP); tax relief for families with one or two children (Child Tax Credit); tax incentives to encourage labor force participation (Earned Income Tax Credit); among countless others. Under statehood U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico would be treated equally under federal laws and programs, providing them equal benefits as well as equal responsibilities. This would boost the local economy, increase federal investments and significantly increase the quality of life in Puerto Rico.
  6. Unleash Full Economic Potential: The uncertainty about Puerto Rico’s future propagated by its current territory status generates a significant disincentive for investors (local, stateside and foreign) because of the risk it represents that Puerto Rico could some day be made independent or more likely continue as a territory with the U.S. Congress treating it arbitrarily under federal laws. Under statehood investment in the island would increase from the certainty that the question of Puerto Rico’s future political status has been definitively resolved as well as the knowledge that the island would be treated equally under federal laws. When the aspect of certainty for investors and equality under federal laws are combined, statehood would enable Puerto Rico to develop to its full economic potential. Just the news of Puerto Rico’s admission as a state alone would make global headlines and spur interest in the island as a destination for both tourists and investors. This would follow a trend of increased economic growth that has been observed historically in territories that were admitted as states, most recently in both Alaska and Hawaii. This would also have a huge positive impact on the ongoing efforts to achieve debt restructuring and fiscal stabilization for the island, which require economic growth.
  7. Increased Interstate Commerce: Even with all of the economic hardship that Puerto Rico has experienced in the last several decades, under the current territory status the island engages in tens of billions of dollars in interstate commerce per year. Unleashing Puerto Rico’s full economic potential under statehood would significantly boost consumer demand and interstate commerce between the island and other states. This would support the growth of businesses and jobs both in Puerto Rico and all states that it engages in interstate commerce with.
  8. Bridge to Latin America and the Caribbean: Under the current territory status Puerto Rico is a political liability to the U.S. at the international level where America has been repeatedly chastised at the UN, OAS and other international bodies for keeping a modern day colony. Under statehood America would regain its moral standing in the international community by honoring the full civil and political rights of its citizens in Puerto Rico. Additionally unleashing Puerto Rico’s full economic potential can enable the island to serve as a more powerful bridge to increase commerce and trade with other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. This is because of the highly capable, culturally competent and bilingual workforce on the island, as well as its geographic proximity to the region.
  9. Reinvigorate American Democracy: Under the current territory status America is failing to live up to the promises and ideals the founding fathers established among which are government by the consent of the governed, representative democracy and equal rights under the law. Making Puerto Rico a state would reinvigorate American democracy by showing ourselves and the world that we can live up to those ideals, and are doing so by expanding voting and civil rights to 3 million American citizens to which those rights have been denied for over a century. It would also force the national parties and presidential candidates to actively compete for the votes of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico, and would also bring in fresh perspectives to the U.S. Congress.
  10. Application of the 10th Amendment: Currently the U.S. Congress can set any and all “rules and regulations” it wishes over Puerto Rico because it remains a territory. This includes the enactment of legislation in 2016 where Congress created an un-accountable and un-elected federal oversight board with the power to make key decisions regarding the island’s public policy and finances over the authority of the locally elected government. As a state Puerto Rico would be protected by the 10th Amendment of the constitution where all powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the state and the people. This would mean an end to the undemocratic oversight board.

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