Tomorrow is the anniversary of the Jones-Shafroth Act, the law that gave the people of Puerto Rico U.S. citizenship on March 2nd, 1917. All residents of Puerto Rico who were not citizens of some other nation, the law said, “are hereby declared and shall be deemed and held to be, citizens of the United States.”
There was an opportunity to refuse this citizenship, but anyone who didn’t refuse U.S. citizenship became a U.S. citizen immediately.
Note that the possibility of being a citizen of the United States and of some other country was specifically denied. There is no reason to think that a citizen of the Republic of Puerto Rico would have the option to remain a citizen of the United States, any more than the U.S. allowed dual citizenship to residents of Puerto Rico back in 1917.
When the people of Puerto Rico became citizens, all new babies born in Puerto Rico from that time forward were also U.S. citizens. But then, just as it is now, a century later, the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico didn’t have the chance to vote for their president or to have voting representatives in Congress.
The idea of limited citizenship under a territorial status wasn’t popular with everyone. Luis Muñoz Rivera wanted full citizenship and statehood for Puerto Rico. He argued against the version of citizenship being offered in the Jones Act, saying, “My countrymen, who, precisely the same as yours, have their dignity and self respect to maintain, refuse to accept a citizenship of an inferior order, a citizenship of the second class, which does not permit them to dispose of their own resources nor to live their own lives nor to send to this Capitol their proportional representation.”
Muñoz Rivera later spoke in favor of the Jones-Shafroth Act, but did not live long enough to see it become law.
Puerto Rico’s status is the same now as it was 100 years ago. It’s time to change that. The people of Puerto Rico must still refuse to accept a citizenship of an inferior order, as Munoz Rivera put it. We must have full participation in the rights and privileges of citizenship. Puerto Rico must have the full rights of a state.