In 2011, the Congressional Research service wrote a report for Congress, “Political Status of Puerto Rico: Options for Congress.” In 2011, fewer than half of Americans in the 50 states knew that Puerto Ricans were citizens of the United States. Congress was also confused. The CongressionalResearch Service wrote this report to make sure that Congress understood what was coming up in the planned 2012 referendum.
The 2012 plebiscite took place. 54% of voters rejected the current status. 61% of those who voted for a viable status option chose statehood. Congress took no action.
But the report took a very thorough look at the viable status options, and at the possible processes for self-determination. Naturally, they included a vote among the residents of Puerto Rico. Not every territory has held a referendum on statehood, but most have. You could say that’s the usual way to find out whether the people living in a territory want to become a state.
There were additional votes in 2017 and 2020 and statehood won again. This year, some members of Congress have proposed that we ignore these votes, the clearly expressed will of the voters of Puerto Rico, and hold a constitutional convention to identify the viable options for Puerto Rico’s status. They say that they are not pushing any particular status, but that they want a different process for self-determination, other than a democratic vote.
Hint: there are only three. viable status options. But the Congressional Research Office made a neutral study of the processes that might lead to the decision.
The report mentions a variety of paths to statehood, from the formation of the first 13 states to the Tennessee Plan. They also mention independence, using the Philippines as an example of a U.S. territory which became an independent nation. In both these cases, they point out that a territory can demand statehood or independence, and Congress must agree.
Without agreement from Congress, neither statehood nor independence will take place.
The report also points out that Congress can take the lead on these status changes.
The report also mentioned the Compacts of Free Association negotiated between the United States and three independent nations, posting out that these compacts required years of negotiation and have been renegotiated.
Constitutional convention or referendum
“One option,” says the report, “was to establish a constituent assembly or local constitutional conventions. The members of the assembly would be elected by the people of Puerto Rico and would be charged with developing the status options to be offered to the people of Puerto Rico and to Congress.”
This is the proposal being offered as a boldness idea by HR 2070.
“A second option,” the report continues, “called for a referendum to be held.” This is what actually took place. This proposal called for federal approval of the options to be presented. Every branch of the federal government has repeatedly said, as the DOJ did just weeks ago, that there are only three possible options: statehood, independence, or the current territorial status.
“A third option,” says the report, was a choice between “a Constitutional Convention on Status, or a petition for a plebiscite with federal approval.”
The constitutional convention option, of course, ends with a referendum on the status options chosen by the convention. These options will be limited by the U.S. Constitution.
Puerto Rico’s voters have chosen statehood repeatedly, and we are confident that they will do so again. Under HR 1522, the Puerto Rico Statehood Bill, they will have the opportunity to reject Congress’s offer of statehood.
HR 2070, the constitutional convention bill, delays statehood further. Its proponents already live in states, benefiting from full citizenship rights while they work to deny those rights to the people whoo live in Puerto Rico.