On March 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed the law that gave Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship. This citizenship, which is given to everyone born in Puerto Rico, is statuatory citizenship, which means that it was granted by Congress rather than by the constitution.
This means that it is not permanent or guaranteed. Just like the power to allow municipalities to use chapter 9 bankruptcy to restructure debt, it can be taken away.
There is no reason to think that Congress plans to repeal the law that made the people of Puerto Rico citizens, as long as Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory. Once Puerto Rico becomes a state, U.S. citizenship would be guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution, and Puerto Rican citizens of the U.S. could not lose their citizenship.
However, a choice to become independent, with or without free association, would almost certainly mean the end of U.S. citizenship.
First, history shows that former territories which become independent, such as the Philippines, do not have U.S. citizenship for their residents. Citizens of the Philippines are not citizens of the United States. It’s that simple. This is true of the citizens of countries in free association with the U.S., too. The United States doesn’t give U.S. citizenship to citizens of other nations.
Second, this question has already been answered by the Department of Justice. In 1991, at hearing held by the U.S. Senate on a proposed status referendum law for Puerto Rico, then Secretary of Justice Richard Thornburgh said that if Puerto Rico became independent, residents would have to choose between U.S. citizenship and citizenship in the new country.
Some political leaders in Puerto Rico say they will demand continued U.S. citizenship as a condition of free association or independence from the United States, but agreements between sovereign nations cannot be predicted in this way. If the United States refuses, as the evidence suggests she will, the sovereign nation of Puerto Rico could not go back to being a territory or ask to become a state. Those options would be off the table by that time.The only way to guarantee U.S. citizenship for the people of Puerto Rico is statehood. #PR51 Click To Tweet