U.S. Citizenship after the June 2017 Vote

Puerto Rico plans to hold another status vote in June, 2017. One of the choices is statehood. Those who vote for statehood will be choosing this statement:

With my vote, I reiterate my request to the Federal Government to immediately begin the process for the decolonization of Puerto Rico with the admission of Puerto Rico as a state of the United States of America. I am aware that the result of this request for Statehood would entail equal rights and duties with the other states, and the permanent union of Puerto Rico. I am also aware that my vote claiming Statehood means my support to all efforts towards the admission of Puerto Rico as a state of the Union, and to all state or federal legislation aimed at establishing equal conditions, Congressional Representation and the Presidential Vote for the American Citizens of Puerto Rico. I am aware that Statehood is only option that guarantees the American citizenship by birth in Puerto Rico.

One of the most challenging parts of the statement is the final sentence: “I am aware that Statehood is only option that guarantees the American citizenship by birth in Puerto Rico.”

Those who are against statehood don’t like that statement, because they feel that it makes statehood sound better than the other options. Unfortunately for the other parties, it’s the truth.

Citizens of the United States living in a State are guaranteed continued citizenship. They will be citizens of the United States and citizens of the State of Puerto Rico. They will have senators, voting congresspeople, and the chance to vote in presidential elections — all things that only citizens of States get.

Here are some further details about citizenship.

If Puerto Rico becomes a State, will Puerto Ricans be citizens?

The U.S. Constitution says in the National and State Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment that a person born or naturalized in a State of the Union becomes a citizen of the U.S. and any State of residence for life.  “Naturalized” means you become a citizen not by birth but by application under federal citizenship laws applicable in the State of residence.  That will not change regardless of the political status of Puerto Rico.

Before the National and State Citizenship Clause was added to the Constitution by the 14th Amendment, U.S. citizenship was acquired at birth or by naturalization under federal citizenship laws passed by Congress under the Naturalization Clause in the Constitution.  Congress continues to grant citizenship to people who were not born in a State, including the children of U.S. citizens born overseas in foreign lands, or in unincorporated U.S. territories like Puerto Rico, where the Constitution and National Citizenship Clause do not apply.

If Puerto Rico becomes independent with sovereign free association status, will Puerto Ricans be citizens?

The current federal citizenship laws conferring citizenship at birth or by naturalization will be repealed to conform federal law to the U.S. treaty law recognizing Puerto Rico as a sovereign country with its own nationality, constitution, citizenship and territorial boundaries.  From the moment territory status ends and sovereign nationhood begins, U.S. citizenship by birth and naturalization in Puerto Rico also will end.

Once Puerto Rico is a Free Associated State, new Puerto Ricans, whether they are immigrants or babies born on the Island, will not be able to become U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico.

Will people who acquired U.S. citizenship under federal citizenship laws based on birth in Puerto Rico in the territorial era be able to keep their citizenship and live in the U.S. if Puerto Rico has that status of sovereign free association? It’s possible. Congress could agree that people who acquired U.S. citizenship based on birth in Puerto Rico during the territorial period can chose allegiance and continuation of all the rights and privileges of U.S. citizenship in our nation and under its laws.

On the other hand,  the government of Puerto Rico could decide to allow all U.S. citizens who acquired that status by birth in the territory to choose allegiance to and acquire the national citizenship of Puerto Rico.

The U.S. has said that it will not allow dual citizenship for Puerto Ricans, and Congress could say that again. Eventually, each nation has to control its own population and territory. That is what nationhood means. People would have to choose which nation — Puerto Rico or the United States — they wanted to live in and hold allegiance to.

Free association is not a status adopted to avoid difficult choices.  It is a status that allows a transition from territorial status under one nation’s sovereignty to separate national sovereignty based on independence. Domestic laws of each nation must establish a mechanism for choice of allegiance and acquisition of post-territorial citizenship status.  What is “subject to negotiation” is when and how a choice will be required, and on what special terms, if any, the U.S. and a sovereign Puerto Rico reciprocally allow their respective citizens to travel, reside and work in both countries as part of a transition from territorial status to separate sovereign nationhood.

7.  QUESTION:    Would those people born in Puerto Rico during the territorial era who chose to keep U.S. citizenship be able to pass it to their children born in Puerto Rico after it is a nation with sovereign free association status?

ANSWER:    That would be free association by name only, because it would prevent Puerto Rico from establishing a body politic with its own national identity.  It also would continue growth of a large populations of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico without the equal rights under the U.S. Constitution that come only with citizenship in a State.  It also would give both nations sovereign interest in the internal affairs of the other, which is inconsistent with the right of independence and free termination of free association.  For these reasons it should be fully expected that territorial era U.S. citizenship will not be transferable to children born in a sovereign Puerto Rico.

8.  QUESTION:  Why can’t universal dual citizenship be allowed given the long history of shared national citizenship between the U.S. and the territory?

That would mean citizens in Puerto Rico would have equal rights of separate national citizenship of Puerto Rico, some but less than equal rights of U.S. citizenship, and the ability to relocate to a State in the U.S. and acquire fully equal rights of U.S. citizenship.  That is incompatible with U.S. law and policy, and also would require reciprocity giving U.S. citizens rights the same rights in Puerto Rico that its citizens would have in the United States.  This would be territorial status by another name.

3 Comments

Jason

I do not believe that they will grant us Statehood in our current financial situation. Even if Statehood won 99% over independence Congress has displayed no true interest in allowing us to join the Union, and considering how disastrous the past and current administrations have been I’m not sure if it would be ideal for us to do so. Obama increased the United States debt to 20 Trillion dollars, Bush launched the War for Oil, I mean, the war on terror and caused quite a few deaths, and Trump has successfully made people realize that he is not suited for the office, which should have been obvious from the very beginning. I am annoyed with the local politicians and not the least surprised with their stupidity, but I am disgusted with the politicians of the White House. The US citizens were forced to choose between two terrible candidates in these past elections. What happened to JFK, Roosevelt, Reagan, Lincoln? Oh, wait, I remember! They’re dead. The US seems to be lacking good leaders. Now people have to choose between sellouts and conmen. My only fear is that if we, PR, became independent we might end up with a government that is too far left. Socialistas, o peor, Comunistas. If I was assured that we would have a free Capitalist Economy then I would be ecstatic for independence. The reality is that that will not be the case, not with the PIP in charge. There is also a lot of racism in the United States(something that I’ve experienced personally and have learned to resent), and their lack of care for Puerto Rico is obvious. In my opinion it would be best if we were independent but with a more Conservative Government. I have no desire to join a Union with a Nation that wants to quote: “Deport Puerto Ricans back to their cesspool of an island.” This is not how all of the US expresses itself about us but there’s a considerable portion of the population that feels this way, and it is a large portion. Clearly most have never stepped foot in the island but these comments doesn’t help raise my opinion about them. I don’t care for Welfare, and I think that we can handle the socialists of the far left if there is a party to counter them. We cannot handle another Trump or Obama. We sure as Hell don’t need to prove ourselves “worthy” of Statehood after all of our contributions to the USA. And if they consider our island to be a cesspool we shouldn’t be lowering ourselves to beg them to let us join the Union. It’s embarrassing. Statehood will win the next plebiscite, but will Congress allow us into the Union? I think not.

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Eli Rodriguez

Well said Jason. I agree with you 200%. I was born , raised , educated and lived in PR until my 23rd birthday. After that I left PR to serve as a commissioned officer in the US Army. Upon my discharge after my tour of duty in Viet Nam I decided to remain in the US “mainland” where I still reside for the last 48 years. It has always amazed me at the ignorance and stupidity of Americans towards PR. They look and treat us ( not all but a very large number) like we are aliens. Some ( also a very large number ) don’t even know and are surprised that we are citizens since 1917 . I have experienced the racism you mention all through my life in the USA. I was fortunate that my mom sent my to a catholic school when I was of school age and my elementary education taught me English from kindergarden to the 8th grade. Remembering my mom she always said that PR could never be independent because we would eat ourselves through our tails ( nos comíamos por los rabos) Like you I don’t think that we should be begging to become a state. Americans think of PR as a welfare state and they don’t know and don’t care to learn that PR’s present economic crisis has all been caused by the federal laws that are applied to the island. We have paid in blood everything that the US “gives” PR. Like you I think this federally sponsored plebiscite will win on June 11 but like you I think that Congress does not want PR as a state and will not allow us in the Union.

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José Ángel acosta

I agree with you, l was drafted 1964 and serve on Vietnam 🇻🇳 also but today’s days the republicans ignorance is getting greater

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