A recent comment from Marta Echevarria-Wild at PR51st included this point:
I think that I am the prototype of the majority of Puerto Ricans that reside in the mainland, and I have voted for both Republican and Democratic presidents for the last 32 years. Besides the political and financial stability, I have very selfish reasons to want Puerto Rico to become a state. I have made a life in the mainland but maintain very close ties with the island. I want my children and grandchildren to continue that close relationship and becoming a state will facilitate that while independence will be an obstacle. I should be able to vote in the upcoming referendum this year. The outcome might put me in the position of having to choose between a “constitutional” USA citizenship vs. a Puerto Rican one, so I should have a say on it.
Marta is not the only one who thinks that Puerto Ricans living in the states should have a say. There are now more people of Puerto Rican heritage living in the States than on the Island. People in Puerto Rico and in the States will be affected by any change in Puerto Rico’s status.
Who got to vote?
Only voters in Puerto Rico were able to vote in the 2020 referendum. That doesn’t mean that people living in the States have no say.
As we have seen before, a plebiscite does not lead to a change in status unless Congress takes action. With no voting members, Puerto Rico has less influence over Congress than any of the 50 States.
Puerto Rico is represented in Congress by a Resident Commissioner. At present, Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon is in this position. Rep. Gonzalez-Colon can introduce legislation and vote in committees, but her vote in the House is strictly symbolic. If her vote makes a difference in the outcome, it is not counted.
Some members of Congress, including Nydia Velazquez of New York and Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, have fought in the past to allow Puerto Ricans living in the states to vote on the status of Puerto Rico.
Problems with including the diaspora
HR 1522, the Puerto Rico Statehood Admissions Bill, includes a measure allowing the voters of Puerto Rico to vote to ratify an invitation to statehood from Congress. HR 2070, the so-called “self-determination bill,” calls for a status convention. The CUNY Center for Puerto Rican Studies has recently received a grant to study decolonization of Puerto Rico, and one topic they plan to discuss is whether the diaspora — people from Puerto Rico living in the United States — should be allowed to take part in a status convention or a vote on status.
Marta makes a good point. She could be affected by a decision on status. However, states have sovereignty which territories do not. Ohio does not get to make decisions for Maine, any more than Algeria gets to make decisions for the United States.
The United States owns Puerto Rico and the federal government gets to make decisions for the territory. Should states get to prevent Puerto Rico from gaining sovereignty as a state? There are more Puerto Ricans living in the states than on the Island. They can outnumber the residents of Puerto Rico, who will be most strongly affected by any status decision.
There is also the question of who among the nearly 6,000 Puerto Ricans should be consulted. Would it be fair to include only people born in Puerto Rico? Then should residents of Puerto Rico who were not born there be able to vote?
If the children or grandchildren of people who moved from Puerto Rico to a state get to vote on Puerto Rico’s status, we would have a case in which voting is limited to people of a particular ethnic heritage, which would go against the 14th amendment.
Either way, we would be setting a precedent. People born in Colorado and living in Alaska are not allowed to vote on laws for Colorado…but how could they be refused this privilege if it were allowed for Puerto Rico?
Use your influence
Just as the majority of Puerto Rico’s voters favor statehood, the majority of Americans in the states favor statehood. The decision on Puerto Rico’s status has been made, and continued discussion may delay the process but is not likely to change the outcome.
If you live in a State, you have influence over Congress. Marta, you have influence over Congress. Research has shown that as few as 30 tweets to a congressperson can change that person’s mind about which issues are important.
Votes are important, of course. They are the way we make decisions in a democracy. But people can speak out and make a difference in other ways. Don’t miss your chance!