Joaquín A. Márquez, an attorney, spoke before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources about the people who have moved from Puerto Rico to the States. The diaspora, he said, is facing “forced migration” just as much as those in other places who are forced to leave their countries because of wars or disasters.
A proportionally smaller but no less painful forced migration of American citizens currently is taking place right here in the United States. Since 2001 more than 400,000 American citizens in Puerto Rico have been displaced and forced to migrate to the U.S. mainland in search of economic opportunity and political equality. Currently, it is estimated that 1,500 persons per week are abandoning the island and that number is on the increase.
The people of Puerto Rico are not just voting with their feet for Statehood when they leave Puerto Rico for Florida, New York, or South Carolina. For some, it may be an adventure or an opportunity, but for others, Márquez says, it doesn’t feel like a choice.
They are being forced to abandon their homes, their friends and relatives and their sense of place in Puerto Rico and to seek the equality and “pursuit of happiness” that the Declaration of Independence promises to all our citizens. However, these promises do not appear to extend to American citizens that reside in a colonial territory.
Puerto Rico has a higher rate of poverty than any of the States, is not treated fairly when it comes to the support American citizens can expect in health and welfare, and is in an economic crisis that continues to get worse, not better.
People are leaving Puerto Rico because they don’t believe that they can take care of their families, accomplish the work they feel called to do, or reach their goals and dreams may not be in fear of their lives, but the United States promises citizens more than that. We are promised “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Equal rights is required for the pursuit of happiness, and the people of Puerto Rico can have equal rights by moving to a state.
Fortunately, the diaspora continues to fight for equality for Puerto Rico. As Márquez put it,
This struggle for equality is unstoppable. The ongoing diaspora to the mainland is but one manifestation of that struggle for equality. The majority vote for Statehood in the 2012 plebiscite is another. The pleas that we are articulating here are also part of that struggle. We will not stop, we will not hesitate, we will not falter, and we will not fail in our quest for equality.