The majority of U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico cherish their U.S. citizenship. Anti-statehood factions sometimes point out that Puerto Ricans may describe themselves as Puerto Rican, not as Americans, and may suggest that Puerto Ricans are not patriotic enough to care deeply about U.S. citizenship.
How patriotic are Americans?
In the past, the United States was sometimes known for jingoistic levels of national pride, but that is not the norm today. Recent Gallup polls show that just 39% of respondents in the U.S. describe themselves as extremely proud to be Americans. 28% are “very proud” to be Americans, but overall this is not a time for flag-waving anywhere in the United States. The Wall Street Journal found similar results when they discovered that just 40% of Americans in their survey said patriotism was important — down from 70% in 1998.
For some Americans, patriotism has been made unappealing by nationalistic rhetoric and the white nationalist movement.
At the same time, Americans continue to love and be proud of their states in just about the same proportions. Upwave surveyed 7,340 Americans across the nation and found that 34% were extremely proud to be from their home states, and 29% were moderately proud. While the two sets of data are not directly comparable (respondents were not given the same options for their answers and Gallup asked just 1,015 people), they suggest that Americans are just about as proud of their states as they are of their country .
We can conclude that being proud to be Puerto Rican will not set the people of the state of Puerto Rico apart from their fellow Americans after statehood.
U.S. citizenship also has some practical benefits. U.S. citizens can travel, study, and work freely in all the states of the Union. Citizens of the three independent nations with compacts of free association (COFAs) with the United States have similar rights, but they can be refused admittance to the United States or deported for a variety of reasons.
They have the protection of the U.S. Constitution — though U.S. citizens from the unincorporated territories, including Puerto Rico, do not have the full protection of the Constitution.
U.S. citizens receive benefits from the federal government that non-citizens do not receive. This includes citizens of the freely associated states. The benefits they receive vary over time and in different states, but they do not have the same benefits as U.S. citizens.
Why does it matter?
Only statehood guarantees U.S. citizenship for the people born in a state and for their children.
Separatists have tried to maintain that people born in Puerto Rico will be able to keep their U.S. citizenship for life even under independence or free association. This would be an unlikely outcome. Since people born in Puerto Rico currently have statutory rather than constitutional citizenship, Congress could legally rescind that citizenship at any time. The separatists expect us to believe that Congress would upgrade Puerto Ricans to permanent, guaranteed citizenship after Puerto Rico rejected U.S. sovereignty. It’s hard to see any motivation for that.
It’s more likely that Puerto Ricans would be given a choice between U.S. citizenship and Puerto Rican citizenship, just as residents of Puerto Rico were given the option to keep their Spanish citizenship or to accept U.S. citizenship in 1917.
All three branches of the federal government have repeatedly said that dual citizenship for an entire foreign nation, with or without free association, is not a possibility. Here are some of the problems with that idea:
- It would require the United States to make decisions on behalf of large numbers of U.S. citizens living on foreign soil.
- It would call into question the sovereignty of the new Republic of Puerto Rico.
- It could pit American citizens from two nations against one another in the United Nations.
A vote for statehood is a vote for U.S. citizenship. It is important that Puerto Rico voters understand this before the final status vote.