By Howard Hills, author of Citizens Without a State.
The 2020 pandemic has largely suspended immigration to the United States, but immigration will be back on our lawmakers’ minds soon.
As we seek to enact a national policy that defines the legal status and rights of millions of non-citizens currently living within our borders, let’s remember there also are 3.2 million U.S. citizens in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico who do not yet have a constitutionally defined status or full and equal rights of citizenship.
For more than a century the people of Puerto Rico, whose residents serve in the U.S. military at a per capita rate higher than most states, have been denied equal rights under the U.S. Constitution. After more than a century since U.S. citizenship was granted by Congress, securing equal rights for our fellow citizens in the last large and densely populated U.S. territory is finally becoming a national policy priority.
In 2014, President Obama and Congress enacted a federal law authorizing and funding a referendum on statehood for Puerto Rico. This is an historic step toward full democracy and equal rights for millions of Latino Americans in Puerto Rico who already are U.S. citizens.
This comes after U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico voted in local referenda held in 2012 and 2017, and a strong majority of voters chose statehood over the current economically failing territorial status or separate nationhood. So for the majority of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico, a federal statehood enabling law defining terms for admission as the 51st state in the union is their “dream act.”
As a leader advocating amnesty and fully equal citizenship for millions of non-citizens, Nancy Pelosi declared to the world that “We are all Americans…a community with a border running through it.” Ironically, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens who live lawfully within our borders, part of the U.S. national community of Americans because of birth in Puerto Rico after it was integrated by Congress into the U.S. homeland to be governed under federal law for over a century.
Just like citizens in Hawaii before it became a state, the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico are not strangers forced to live outside the civic order in the same way as non-citizens. In Puerto Rico, our fellow citizens turn out to vote in elections at a high rate unheard of in the 50 states and in many ways enjoy the blessings of life as citizens.
U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico typically will come to attention, salute the flag and pledge allegiance to it, often with tears in their eyes, whenever it is displayed at high school sporting events and town hall meetings. After all, Americans from Puerto Rico have served in every war since WWI, defending our nation and way of life.
Now that the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico voted to end their current colonial status and become a state it is time for Congress to act. That makes equal citizenship a national priority, as it was for 32 other territories that voted for statehood and were admitted to the union.
To see the faces of your fellow citizens who will one day have equal rights through statehood, please take a moment to watch the video above.
It takes nothing away from the cause of non-citizens seeking opportunity lawfully to call on all Americans to support equal rights that the Latino people of Puerto Rico have earned as lawful U.S. citizens.
This post was originally written in English and may be being auto-translated by Google.