People born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens. This has been true since 1917. This means that someone who was born in Puerto Rico can move to a state just as easily as a person born in a state can move to another state. You can move to Georgia from Puerto Rico just as you can move from Georgia to Alabama.
When we talk about equal rights for Puerto Rico, people sometimes say that we don’t need to fight for equal rights for the territory. Anybody who wants to vote, they figure, can just move to a state.
It’s true. If U.S. citizens born in Puerto Rican move to Idaho, they can register to vote and vote in the next presidential election. They can’t vote in Puerto Rico, but they can vote in Idaho.
They can also receive SSI if they’re eligible. They can have access to better job opportunities and more education options. They can receive health care or nutrition assistance if they need it. Many people who have left Puerto Rico to live in a state explain that they had to do so because they couldn’t get the health care they needed for their child in Puerto Rico or because they couldn’t get a place in a graduate program. By moving to a stater, they gained access to the things they needed.
But sometimes this is presented as a good thing. “Don’t complain about your lack of equality in Puerto Rico,” some people seem to say. “Just move to Florida!”
Not a solution
Keishla Rodríguez explains that her mother had to move to Florida for the sake of her quality of life, while Keishla remained in Puerto Rico. Under statehood, she explains, when Puerto Rico would have the same rights and privileges as Florida, she and her mother could be together.
People who feel forced to leave Puerto Rico to come to the states are not setting off on an adventure to seek their fortunes. Often, they would like to stay on the Island. Often, having to move divides their families. Often, it doesn’t feel like a free choice.
Statehood is the solution
Equal rights for Puerto Rico is the solution. This is possible only under statehood.
The U.S. Constitution clearly states that all states are on an equal footing. Every state has the same federal laws, access to federal benefits, and responsibilities to every other state. Each states also has its own sovereignty. Laws are different from one state to another. In fact, the 10th amendment says that states have control over everything that is not laid out in the Constitution.
Each state decides whether it will have an official language or languages. Each state decides its own laws on sales tax. Each state regulates its own educational system. But each state also is guaranteed equal educational opportunities, equal treatment under the commerce clause, and equal protection under the law.
This will be true for the state of Puerto Rico just as it is for the state of Rhode Island. Statehood guarantees equal rights.
Other status options
As an independent nation or a free associated state, Puerto Rico will not be subject to or protected by the U.S. Constitution. There is no suggestion that a new nation of Puerto Rico will have equality with the states. Citizens of a new nation of Puerto Rico may not have U.S. citizenship, and they may not have the freedom to live in a state. They may not have the ability to travel freely to or in the U.S. Families could be divided if some members live in states and some live in Puerto Rico.
Statehood is the status that guarantees equal rights for Puerto Rico. Share your story. Tell us why statehood is important to you.