Javier Manjarres, a candidate for Congress in Florida’s 22nd district, has made a statement supporting statehood for Puerto Rico:
Thousands of Puerto Rican Americans have served and sacrificed in defense of our great nation. However, despite their deeply rooted patriotism, Puerto Rican Americans are not guaranteed the same equal rights afforded to all Americans under our Constitution.
A majority of the 3.5 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico have voted to end territory status and seek statehood in the future. As a member of Congress, I will support a new federal policy to give Puerto Rico the opportunity to become the 51st state in the union.
The first step to this process should be the Constitutional incorporation of Puerto Rico into the union, as that is the historical pathway to statehood.
Manjarres supports incorporating Puerto Rico, which is now an unincorporated territory. It is not a legal requirement for a territory to become incorporated before becoming a state — California, for example, was never an incorporated territory — but it is one possible path to statehood for Puerto Rico.
What’s the difference between incorporated and unincorporated territories?
An incorporated territory is part of the United States, and the U.S. Constitution applies there. It is understood to be on its way to statehood, or at least that was true in the past. Right now, the only incorporated territory in the U.S. is the Palmyra Atoll, which has no full-time residents. Since there are no people living there (apart from researchers, who are not permanent residents), Palmyra is not likely to become a state.
An unincorporated territory like Puerto Rico belongs to the United States, but is not strictly speaking a part of the United States. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t apply fully in Puerto Rico. And the Supreme Court has declared that Puerto Rico can continue to be a territory “indefinitely” without becoming a state.
Should Puerto Rico become an incorporated territory?
In a famous court case known as Balzac, the court decision said, “Had Congress intended to take the important step of changing the treaty status of Puerto Rico by incorporating it into the Union, it is reasonable to suppose that it would have done so by the plain declaration, and would not have left it to mere inference.” This means that Congress has the power to declare that Puerto Rico is an incorporated territory.
Most of the territories that have already become states were incorporated territories before they became stares. Some states were part of a number of different territories as parts of their territories became states and left other parts behind. These leftover bits of land would be incorporated into a new territory at some point. Montana, for example, was part of seven different territories before it became a state.
If Congress wants to make Puerto Rico into an incorporated territory before admitting the Island as a state, Congress can do that. Congress can also just admit Puerto Rico as a state without that intermediary step.
Either way, Congress makes the decision. The more Members of Congress who support statehood, the easier the process will be. Do your reps support statehood? We hope you will ask them this question as you get ready to vote in the midterm elections!