“The power to create States belongs to the people who inhabit them; the power to admit them into the Union belongs to Congress.”– Senator Lewis Cass, speaking on the admission of California, 1850.

There is no mention in this statement of the people living in states at the time.

People living in states have never actually been officially involved in the decision to admit new states, but they are involved in the discussion as they are involved in any national conversation.

How are stateside Americans involved in the decision about Puerto Rico’s status?

Puerto Ricans in the United States

Puerto Ricans living in states are naturally interested in Puerto Rico’s status. They have an opportunity, as Puerto Ricans living on the Island do not, to influence their representatives in Congress to vote for admission for Puerto Rico. This is a very important part of the process, and their advocacy matters.

At this point, the population of Puerto Ricans in the states is larger than the number still living in Puerto Rico. This fact also gives importance to the voice of those in the states.

Some Puerto Ricans in Congress want stateside Puerto Ricans to have the chance to vote on Puerto Rico’s status. Luis Gutierrez spoke against a statehood bill in 2015 because “It denies Puerto Ricans on the mainland in the United States the right to participate in this vital process.” Nydia Velazquez has also tried to amend statehood acts to allow the diaspora to vote.

However, people in one state have never been allowed to vote for or against any proposition being voted on in another state, no matter how strongly they feel. States have sovereignty which territories do not, but citizens living in one state are only allowed to vote in the state where they reside.

People from states living in Puerto Rico

People living in states get to vote on all ballot issues in the state where they live. It never happens that a vote takes place in Delaware which requires voters to have been born in Delaware, for example, or to have parents who lived in Delaware.

But it has been proposed that non-natives should not be allowed to vote on status in Puerto Rico, even if they live there. This would be an exclusion of people from the states rather than a question of the involvement of people living in the states, but it mirrors the idea of allowing Puerto Ricans living in the states to vote.

Voting right in the United States are not denied to citizens on the basis of their birthplaces. So moving to Puerto Rico can be said to be a case of people from the states having an influence on Puerto Rico’s political decisions.

People in the states, in general

Since 1962, the prestigious Gallup polling organization has found that the majority of Americans favor statehood for Puerto Rico. Two thirds said so in 2019, the last time this survey was conducted. YouGov sees similar results.

Americans strongly favored statehood for Alaska and Hawaii, too. Alaska in particular saw a groundswell of public opinion in its favor after the 1958 publication of Ice Palace by Edna Ferber, a novel focusing on the statehood question. Readers of the novel were moved to write their congressmen, and this outpouring of support is seen as a factor in Alaska’s success in achieving statehood.

People who are not Puerto Rican have many different reasons for wanting Puerto Rico to be the 51st state. YouGov asked people in its most recent survey their reasons for supporting statehood for PuertoRico. The top answers:

  • Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.
  • Puerto Rico deserves to be a state.
  • Puerto Rico should have equal representation.

Fairness and equality are basic American values, so it is no surprise that Americans in general favor statehood for Puerto Rico — the only real path to equality. Americans hold strong opinions on what is right and wrong in communities, states, and nations other than their own, and are not shy about speaking up in support of others.

The takeaway

The power to create states lies in the people who inhabit them, as Senator Cass said. These are the people living in Puerto Rico. The power to admit states lies with members of Congress, and the people living in their states have the power to influence them.

If you live in a state, please ask your senators and congresspeople to support the Puerto Rico Statehood Admissions Bill. Your advocacy can make a real difference.



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