The Puerto Rico Status Act: What Should Change | Puerto Rico 51st

90 Puerto Rican organizations signed a letter to the Natural Resources Committee suggesting changes that should be made to the Puerto Rico Status Act.

The letter proposes several changes:

  • Clarify the free association option.

“We recommend amending the ‘Free Association’ option from ‘Sovereignty in Free Association’ to ‘Independence in Free Association,'” says the letter. “Using the word ‘Independence’ before ‘Free Association’ would make the constitutional implications of this option much clearer to voters than using the word ‘Sovereignty,’ whose meaning is more ambiguous and less commonly understood. We also recommend amending Sec. 5(b)(3)(E) by adding the words ‘which would result in Puerto Rico’s independence.’ These changes are necessary to ensure the genuine informed consent of Puerto Rico’s voters who may select this option under the plebiscite proposed by PRSA.”

Free association is a negotiated treaty between two sovereign nations which can be changed or ended at any time by either party, without the agreement of the other nation. If Puerto Rico wants to make a change, the United States can agree to it, or if the nations cannot agree, the United States can refuse to continue in free association.

That’s the “free” part.

“Real free association is not a power-sharing relationship within a blended sphere of sovereignty and common nationality,” wrote Howard Hills, former lead counsel in the Executive Office of the President and National Security Council on U.S. territorial status law, at The Hill. “It’s an alliance between two separate sovereign nationalities.”

  • Add to educational materials.

The bill calls for educational materials for voters, to be sure that all the options on the ballot are clear.

“We recommend adding a Sec. 6(b)(5) to ensure that the ‘Voter Educational Materials’ include an explanation of the ‘Constitutional Implications’ of each option. Such an explanation must make clear to voters that the ‘Free Association’ option means national sovereignty… The explanation of ‘Statehood’ should make clear to voters that it means admission into the ‘Union of States’ on equal footing where each state retains its own state Constitution, state identity, state flag, sovereignty under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and where state citizens have full and equal rights, benefits and responsibilities at the federal level as U.S. citizens in all other states.”

The letter goes on to say that the voter education materials should make it clear that U.S citizens living in Puerto Rico will be required to file federal income tax returns and to pay federal taxes, as all U.S. citizens living abroad must.

These changes would clarify many of the points anti-statehood factions are mistakenly using to argue against statehood.

  • Clarify U.S. citizenship rights.

The discussion draft implies that Puerto Ricans will be able to retain citizenship and even to pass it along to their children even if Puerto Rico separates from the United States. The letter asks that the issue be clarified.

“The PRSA’s current draft language creates a number of very serious ambiguities regarding the level of protection of the citizenship rights of U.S. citizens born on the island once Puerto Rico exits territorial status and the U.S. cedes sovereignty over the territory and its population,” the letter states. “The citizenship provisions in PRSA must make it absolutely clear to Puerto Rico’s voters that, notwithstanding any implicit or explicit statutory guarantees made in the PRSA, as a sovereign nation the U.S. will always retain control over its citizenship policy. This includes the possibility that a future Congress could mandate that U.S. citizens make an election between retaining U.S. citizenship and obtaining a new Puerto Rican citizenship should they choose to remain in an independent Puerto Rico with or without free association.”

  • Specify alternatives for implementation of free association.

Under the draft of the bill, a vote for independence will lead to independence and a vote for statehood will lead to statehood. However, a vote for free association will require Puerto Rico and the United States Congress to negotiate articles of free association. The bill says that they must “endeavor” — that is, try — to do so within two years. Then the terms must be ratified by the voters of Puerto Rico.

There is no specification of what will happen if they are not successful in these negotiations. We would expect that Puerto Rico, having already chosen at that point to be separated from the United States and the U.S. Constitution, would be an independent nation without a relationship of free association with the United States.

It has been suggested that a failure to negotiate a Compact of Free Association would instead return Puerto Rico to he position of an unincorporated territory. The Acts should say what will happen in this case — before voters are asked to choose an option.

Read the full letter. 

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