In 1901, Puerto Rico Governor Charles Allen wrote, “Porto Rico has plenty of laborers and poor people generally. What the island needs is men with capital, energy, and enterprise to develop its latent industries.”

In 1912, Governor Arthur Yager wrote, “The only really effective remedy is the transfer of large numbers of Porto Ricans to another region.”

For much of the 20th century, Puerto Rico suffered from overpopulation (or that was the perception) and both the federal and the territorial governments worked to encourage outmigration. Operation Bootstrap, the effort to shift Puerto Rico from an agricultural to an industrial economy, included plans to transport farm workers to the states.

Now, Puerto Rico suffers from a rapidly diminishing population, with consequences including a sinking tax base, an aging population in need of support from a shrinking population of young workers, and a lack of various kinds of workers including medical professionals.

At the same time, some of the territorial government’s policies continue to encourage “men with capital, energy, and enterprise to develop its latent industries.” Special tax deals for people from outside of Puerto Rico who establish companies in Puerto Rico make the Island attractive to stateside entrepreneurs. These individuals need have only one employee living in Puerto Rico, and it can be the owner of the company. These policies have encouraged people who are not real residents of Puerto Rico to use the Island as a tax haven rather than building wealth in Puerto Rico.

Reasons for leaving Puerto Rico

Ask people why they left the Island for a home in the states, and you are likely to hear that the decision came down to economic opportunity. Often people need healthcare that was not available to them in Puerto Rico, job opportunities that were limited on the Island, a higher income for the same work (as is often the case for doctors), and other benefits of statehood. There is an echo of the 20th century’s encouragement of migration from Puerto Rico, without the excuse of overpopulation.

People who leave Puerto Rico for a state are in effect voting for statehood with their feet.

It is often argued that Puerto Ricans who want statehood can have it in any of the 50 states. But equal rights through leaving Puerto Rico to live in a state helps individuals…while also tearing families apart. It doesn’t bring equal rights to Puerto Rico. Statehood will do that.

Contact your representatives today. Let them know that statehood for Puerto Rico matters to you as a voter if you live in the states. If you live in Puerto Rico, add your voice to those of activists across the nation. Share your story.




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