32 territories have become states so far. The more you know about how those states achieved their goal of statehood, the more obvious it is that Puerto Rico can become a state. Here are 10 things many people believe about Puerto Rico’s path to statehood that just aren’t true.
- “Puerto Rico can’t become a state until the government is out of debt.” This is false. Arkansas was deeply in debt when it became a state.
- “Puerto Rico’s leaders have to agree before statehood is possible.” This is false. As Pedro Pierlusi pointed out, that’s not how democracy works. Consider Florida, which changed its statehood plans repeatedly in the midst of wars, and still became a state. Or think about Texas, which was still part of Mexico when people started working toward statehood, and became an independent Republic (briefly) before becoming a state. Consensus is not a requirement for statehood.
- At least one presidential candidate believed that Puerto Rico has to become fluent in English before statehood. This is false. New Mexico and Oklahoma are just two of the many states that didn’t have a majority English-speaking population when they became states.
- Many Americans believe that states have to join the Union in pairs, with one Republican state and one Democratic state. This is not true. While it was true at one time that states had to join in pairs — one that allowed slavery and one that did not — that is no longer true.
- “Alaska and Hawaii joined together and one was Republican and one was Democratic,” some readers are now thinking, “so that proves that states have to join in pairs.” This is not true. In fact, people expected those two territories to be red and blue — and they turned out the exact opposite. Alaska is now a red state (usually voting Republican) and Hawaii is a blue state (usually voting Democratic), but they were expected to vote the opposite way. Unlike laws about slavery, voting red or blue is not a permanent condition.
- “Puerto Rico is too different, culturally, from the United States to become a state.” First, this is false. Utah had to give up polygamy to become a state. Louisiana had a completely different system of laws from the United States, based on its French heritage. In fact, every territory was significantly different from the territories which had already become states before it. States are still different from one another. This is part of the beauty of the United States. Also, it’s worth noting that more people of Puerto Rican heritage live in states now than in Puerto Rico. The majority of Puerto Ricans already live in states.
- “Puerto Rico would have to become an incorporated territory before becoming a state.” This is also false. California became a state without even becoming an organized territory first. Vermont was part of another state and flirting with independence when it became a state.
- “The opposition parties boycotted the 2017 referendum, so Puerto Rico can’t become a state.” This is not the case. Alabama is one of several territories that became a state without having a referendum at all.
- “Puerto Rico has had a number of votes on status, and several turned out anti-statehood.” This doesn’t matter. Wisconsin voted against statehood many times before voting for statehood, as did Oregon. Oh, and also — no referendum is even required for statehood, as Alabama’s history shows.
- “Puerto Rico can’t become a state until the president says so.” This is false. Colorado’s admission to the Union was vetoed by the president at the time, but Colorado still became a state. The president doesn’t make this decision.
The truth is, Puerto Rico satisfies all the requirements for statehood. Congress can make Puerto Rico a state at any time with a simple majority.