U.S. citizenship cannot be guaranteed for Puerto Ricans under any political status except statehood. But what about the children and grandchildren of current U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico? Could we expect to pass along U.S. citizenship to our descendents?
U.S. citizenship for Puerto Rico
The U.S. Code, Chapter 12: Immigration and Nationality explains the current law on citizenship for people born in the territory of Puerto Rico:
“All persons born in Puerto Rico on or after April 11, 1899, and prior to January 13, 1941, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, residing on January 13, 1941, in Puerto Rico or other territory over which the United States exercises rights of sovereignty and not citizens of the United States under any other Act, are declared to be citizens of the United States as of January 13, 1941. All persons born in Puerto Rico on or after January 13, 1941, and subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, are citizens of the United States at birth.”
This law, still in effect in 2022, applies to two groups of people:
- people born in Puerto Rico between 1899 and 1941 who were living in a U.S. territory on January 13, 1941
- people born in Puerto Rico after 1941, if they are also “subject to the jurisdiction of the United States”
The first group includes people in their 80s and 90s who were born in Puerto Rico and living there in 1941. The second group includes most people now living who were born in Puerto Rico, as long as they are currently subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, as well as people born in Puerto Rico in the future, as long as they are under the jurisdiction of the United States.
This says quite specifically that people born in a new nation of Puerto Rico, who will not be under the jurisdiction of the United States at all, will not be citizens of the United States at birth.
The Puerto Rico Status Act
The Puerto Rico Status Act respects this, specifying that being born in Puerto Rico will no longer provide birthright U.S. citizenship after independence. However, it also claims that an Associated Republic of Puerto Rico would have a different set of rules during the first term of its Articles of Free Association.
“Birth in Puerto Rico shall cease to be a basis for United States nationality or citizenship. Individuals born in Puerto Rico to parents both of whom are United States citizens shall be United States citizens at birth, consistent with the immigration laws of the United States, for the duration of the first agreement of the Articles of Free Association.”
Under current law, a child born abroad to a U.S. citizen can generally be a citizen of the United States. Only one U.S. parent is required. It is not necessary for both parents to be U.S. citizens.
However, it also includes residence requirements. There are some variations of the law for different circumstances, but generally at least one of the parents must have lived in the United States for five years before the birth of the child. This is not required by The Puerto Rico Status Act.
Separate but equal?
Carmen Yulin Cruz, among others, has objected to the fact that The Puerto Rico Status Act specifies different rules for the descendants of Puerto Ricans than for other U.S. citizens. She wants to see the same rules for Puerto Rican citizens of the United States as for people born in states.
A woman born in Florida who has a baby in a new Republic of Puerto Rico could be confident that her child would be a citizen of the United States. However, a woman born in the territory of Puerto Rico having a baby in an Associated Republic of Puerto Rico would not have that assurance. The child’s father would also have to be a U.S. citizen.
What Yulin Cruz might not have realized is that if the current U.S. citizenship laws apply equally to citizens from a new nation of Puerto Rico, they would no longer be living in the United States. If our hypothetical Puerto Rican woman had never lived in a state, she would not be eligible to pass along her U.S. citizenship because she would not fulfill the residence requirement once Puerto Rico was no longer a territory of the United States.
The difference in requirements to pass on citizenship may seem arbitrary, but it might make it possible for citizens of a new nation of Puerto Rico to hold onto U.S. citizenship over the long term. That is, if the U.S. Congress accepts the prospect of having millions of U.S. citizens who owe loyalty to a foreign country.
A vote against statehood will probably be a vote against U.S. citizenship.