NPR’s Tom Gjelten took a question from a caller on the topic of immigration when he was a guest on C-Span’s Washington Journal recently.

“I would like to ask the guest what his opinion of the migration that is coming from Puerto Rico right now, due to their financial chaos,” the caller asked. “A thousand Puerto Ricans a week, not considered immigrants but coming to the United States as U.S. citizens with no vetting. And that just seems like something that’s not being discussed.”

Gjelten offered a sensible answer.

“Well the reason it’s not being discussed, and you alluded to it in your question, is cause they’re not immigrants.” Gjelten said. “Puerto Rico is not a state, but Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.”

Gjelten wrote the book  A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story. He was a guest on C-Span to plug the book and to talk about immigration. “Vetting” of immigrants takes place now. For example, refugees from Syria may spend up to two years going through a process that starts with a background check and can include medical testing, “cultural orientation” classes, and more.

People moving from North Carolina to South Carolina aren’t vetted. Nor are people moving from Puerto Rico to Florida. U.S. citizens moving from one part of the country to another aren’t immigrants, and they don’t need to be vetted. Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States, and a discussion about Puerto Rico is not a discussion about immigrants.

“Those people have every right to move to some other state or other part of the country where there are more jobs,” Gjelten continued. “You talk about vetting. We don’t vet people that move from one state to another, from one part of America to another. That’s their rights as Americans to move.”

The caller did at least realize that people born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens, something many people do not know. In most of the 50 states, students learn in school about the 50 states — and not about Puerto Rico or the other territories of the U.S. A recent survey found that 43% of the Americans asked did not know that Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States. The C-Span caller knew that Puerto Ricans are citizens, but did not understand that this means they can move from one place to another just as he can.

People who think Puerto Rico is a separate country may have trouble understanding why Puerto Rico should have statehood, why it is wrong to have limitations on Puerto Ricans’ rights as citizens, and why the federal government is obligated to care for Puerto Rico just as it must respond to the needs of states.

It’s time to educate the people of the United States about Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico’s relationship to the United States government. Share this post on Facebook and Twitter and help correct the misconceptions that can get in the way of progress toward statehood.



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