Can Puerto Rico Have Equal Rights without Statehood?

Why should Puerto Rico become a State? Some of the reasons have to do with the benefits to Puerto Rico or to the U.S. as a whole, but some of the strongest reasons have to do with equal rights. People living in Puerto Rico, though they are citizens, cannot vote in presidential elections and they do not have the representation in the House and Senate that people living in the States have.

The people of Puerto Rico also do not have the same support from federal programs as people living in the States.

So what if the residents of Puerto Rico were given the chance to vote for the president? What if laws were made that said that Puerto Rico should have equal treatment under federal programs? Would that fix the problems?

No.

First, as an unincorporated territory — that is, a territory that is not officially on the path to statehood — Puerto Rico is not covered by the constitution. The reasons for this are complex, and you can read more about them here. Suffice it to say that some decisions made by the Supreme Court nearly a century ago determined that the constitution doesn’t “follow the flag.” A right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness may be inalienable, but the right to all the duties and privileges that U.S. citizens enjoy under the constitution do not apply in Puerto Rico just because Puerto Rico belongs to the United States.

For example, Puerto Rico, until she becomes a state, has no senators and no voting representatives in Congress. Who represents Puerto Rico in the legislature when decisions are made that affect the people of Puerto Rico? One congressional representative, who can vote in committees unless her vote would break a tie.

That is not enough representation.

What about those federal programs? Congress could decide to give Puerto Rico equal treatment in federal programs. The next Congress could change that. The current congress cannot give Puerto Rico the right to equal treatment in federal programs in the future — except by giving Puerto Rico statehood.

Puerto Rico can’t have equal rights without statehood.

En Español

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