“When it comes to statehood for Puerto Rico, the United States has to remain neutral,” says a character on the TV Drama The West Wing in the clip above. “The federal government must remain neutral.”
“Sides have been taken,” his assistant points out. “Former presidents, the Speaker, the minority leader — they all say that statehood is in the long-term interests of Puerto Rico and that as it stands now, 3.8 million American citizens have been relegated to second class status! That’s — that’s more people than Mississippi!”
There’s a little bit of discussion of independence and an outdated claim that Puerto Rico is dependent on U.S. manufacturing, and then the assistant says, “People don’t sit still for tyranny! Puerto Ricans have to register to be drafted into the armed forces yet they’re not allowed to vote for president. They’re expected to die for a Commander in Chief they had no voice in electing!”
The population of Puerto Rico has shrunk since this TV show was made, but the point still stands. Puerto Ricans are in fact expected to die for a Commander in Chief they had no voice in electing… and they do. Puerto Rico contributes more people to the armed forces than States of the same size.
But is it true that the federal government has to remain neutral?
No. As the assistant in the TV episode rightly pointed out, there have been a number of presidents who have announced support for statehood for Puerto Rico, as well as those who have simply said that they will accept the will of the people of Puerto Rico.
Congress also has plenary (full) power over Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has a Resident Commissioner in Congress, and he outspokenly favors statehood. The federal government doesn’t have to be neutral on statehood for Puerto Rico any more than the federal government has to be neutral on any other human rights issue.
In fact, why not just add your rep’s Twitter handle to this statement and tweet it now: Statehood for Puerto Rico now!
Congressman Don Young recently said in a hearing on Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, “If you’d done what I said 15 years ago and made Puerto Rico a state, we wouldn’t be here today.” He went on to say of Congress, “We have neglected Puerto Rico for over 100 years; a territory that should be a state. I say shame on us.”
Young spoke about Congress taking action on Puerto Rico’s status because it is the responsibility of Puerto Rico to resolve Puerto Rico’s statehood. Puerto Rico could declare independence if the people of Puerto Rico wanted independence, just as the United States declared independence centuries ago. But the people of Puerto Rico can’t declare themselves a state without Congress’s support. We can see that Puerto Rico’s efforts to declare an “enhanced commonwealth” without the agreement of the federal government have been completely ineffective. Congress has the power in this case, and Puerto Rico has to speak up and make sure that Congress knows what Puerto Rico wants.
Do your part. Tell your congressional representative that you want statehood for Puerto Rico.