On March 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth Act. This important piece of legislation conferred U.S. citizenship on everyone born in Puerto Rico.

The bill included a plan for the government of the Island, a Bill of Rights, and the law that anyone born in Puerto Rico and residing there would be a U.S. citizen — unless they were already a citizen of another country. Anyone who chose not to accept this citizenship had six months to declare their intention to stick with their current status.

Puerto Ricans have been citizens of the United States for 107 years, as of March 2, 2024.

A bittersweet anniversary

Puerto Ricans cherish U.S. citizenship, making March 2 a day to celebrate. However, this is citizenship with a difference.

Puerto Rico, the Nationality Act, and U.S. Citizenship

Puerto Ricans have statutory citizenship, not constitutional citizenship. This is because of the 14th Amendment. “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,” says the 14th Amendment. The federal government, including the Supreme Court, has interpreted this to mean that — since they don’t reside in a state — People born in Puerto Rico are not protected by this definition of citizenship.

People born in Puerto Rico and living in a state have the right to vote in presidential elections, full representation in Congress, and all the other privileges that come with U.S. citizenship. People born in a state and living in Puerto Rico cannot vote in presidential elections, are not represented fully in Congress, and do not have equality under many laws and policies.

Puerto Rico is not a state and is not fully covered and protected by the U.S. Constitution. Congress could, if they so choose, rescind U.S. citizenship from Puerto Rico just as easily as they gave it.

Statehood is the immediate and obvious solution

Puerto Rico is treated unequally under many laws and policies of the federal government. This is not because of any characteristic of Puerto Rico or any failing on the part of Puerto Ricans. It is just because Puerto Rico is not a state.

Statehood will immediately and automatically provide equality for Puerto Rico. All states are on an equal footing in the United States.

Perhaps by American Citizenship Day of 2025, Puerto Rico will have been admitted as a state and we can look back on more than 107 years of inequality under territory status as a wrong that will have been righted.



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