Puerto Rico is not a state. It is a territory belonging to the United States. U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico –and everyone born in Puerto Rico is a U.S. citizen by birth — can’t vote in presidential elections. They have no senators and just one non-voting member of Congress. With so little voice in the federal government, it is no surprise that Puerto Rico is not given fair access to government programs and benefits. When people first learn this, they often ask “Did Puerto Rico apply for statehood?”
It has been so long since the United States added a new state that most of us can’t remember the last time it happened (in 1959).Without any knowledge of how states are added to the union, people assume that they apply for statehood. Maybe by sending an application to the President of the United States.
In fact, Congress makes new states by passing a law saying that there is a new state.There are no special rules about statehood. For example, California was never a territory, but they petitioned for statehood in 1849 and were admitted the following year. Alabama never held a referendum, but they petitioned for statehood in 1817 and were admitted two years later.
Congress could legally annex a territory and make a law saying that it was a state with no further ado, but they never have. They also could just declare a territory independent, but they have never done that, either. They wait for a petition for statehood or a request for independence.
So far that sounds easy, but it isn’t. Congress often just ignores petitions for statehood. Since admitting a state is really a question of passing a law, becoming a state usually involves introducing a bill or two (or in the case of Hawaii, 18).
Puerto Rico officially petitioned for statehood in 2018. However, there were statehood bills in 1977, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2021.
The current statehood admission bill, HR 1522, is in committee. That means that it has been sent to the House Committee on Natural Resources, which is in charge of Puerto Rico. Representative Raul Grijalva, the chair of that committee, plans to hold a mark up of HR 1522 this fall. Then it will go back to the full House for a vote. All it takes is a simple majority — Alaska’s statehood bill passed with 53 “yes” votes.
If the Senate agrees, the bill will go to the president for a signature. HR 1522 calls for a ratification vote in Puerto Rico if that happens. If the voters of Puerto Rico again choose statehood, Puerto Rico will then become the 51st state.
Contact your representative and make sure they understand that you want statehood for Puerto Rico. That is the only path to equality and justice for Puerto Rico.