Happy Citizenship Anniversary, Puerto Rico!
On March 2, 1917, then-President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth Act. While it is sometimes confused with the Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, the Jones-Shafroth act gave U.S. citizenship to the people of Puerto Rico. That is why tomorrow, March 2nd, is the citizenship anniversary of Puerto Rico.
The Jones-Shafroth Act, also known as the the Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act of 1917, made Puerto Rico a U.S. territory. It divided the Puerto Rican government into Executive, Judicial, and Legislative branches, and created a House and Senate elected by the people living on the Island.
This law also established the elected Resident Commissioner and made Puerto Rican bonds tax-free. It included a bill of rights and basic laws including the illegality of slavery.
The citizenship conferred by the Jones-Shafroth Act was statutory citizenship, meaning that it was granted by an act of Congress and not by the Constitution.
The wording was this:
“SEC. 5. That all citizens of Porto Rico… and all natives of Porto Rico who were temporarily absent from that island on April eleventh, eighteen hundred and ninety-nine, and have since returned and are permanently residing in that island, and are not citizens of any foreign country, are hereby declared, and shall be deemed and held to be, citizens of the United States.”
Anyone who did not want to become a U.S. citizen had six months to make a declaration to that effect and would not have to become a citizen. There were also specific ways to gain citizenship in cases where people lived in Puerto Rico but were absent during the conferral of citizenship, or were not citizens of Puerto Rico but lived there.
There was another citizenship act, the 1940 Nationality Act, which tidied up any citizenship issues remaining and made birthright citizenship the norm for Puerto Rico. However, Puerto Rican citizenship is still statutory.
One good way to celebrate U.S. citizenship would be to take steps towards statehood for Puerto Rico. As a state, Puerto Rico will come under Section 1 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
As an unincorporated territory, Puerto Rico is not completely covered by the U.S. Constitution. As a state, it will be.
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