Puerto Rico, the 51st State

Puerto Rico has been under the U.S. flag since 1898, and Puerto Ricans have been granted U.S. citizenship since 1917. But the Commonwealth is still an unincorporated territory. What does this mean?
American and Puerto Rico flags

  • Whether it will ultimately become a State or a nation has not been determined.
  • The Federal government governs it (even though it has allowed self-government on local matters).
  • It does not have votes in Congress or in the election of the President (although its 3.2 million people have one House of Representatives member with a vote in committees as long as he doesn’t break a tie).
  • It is treated differently than the States under some laws and can be discriminated against in federal funds allocated to it.

Federal officials have said Puerto Rico should have the status its people want from among all legally possible options.

In 2012, 54% of Puerto Ricans  said they did not want to be a territory and 61.2% chose statehood. In 2017, 97% of voters chose statehood from the possible options — statehood, independence, and continuing as a territory.  In 2020, more than 52% of voters said “Yes” to statehood.

Some local politicians want a new arrangement with benefits of being a state, a nation, and a territory they call “Enhanced Commonwealth status.” Federal officials say it is impossible.

The “Commonwealth” politicians refused to respect the 2012 and 2017 votes, but Congress has the power to take action for statehood now.

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