Puerto Rico plans to hold another status vote in June, 2017. One of the choices is statehood. Those who vote for statehood will be choosing this statement:
With my vote, I reiterate my request to the Federal Government to immediately begin the process for the decolonization of Puerto Rico with the admission of Puerto Rico as a state of the United States of America. I am aware that the result of this request for Statehood would entail equal rights and duties with the other states, and the permanent union of Puerto Rico. I am also aware that my vote claiming Statehood means my support to all efforts towards the admission of Puerto Rico as a state of the Union, and to all state or federal legislation aimed at establishing equal conditions, Congressional Representation and the Presidential Vote for the American Citizens of Puerto Rico. I am aware that Statehood is only option that guarantees the American citizenship by birth in Puerto Rico.
One of the most challenging parts of the statement is the final sentence: “I am aware that Statehood is only option that guarantees the American citizenship by birth in Puerto Rico.”
Those who are against statehood don’t like that statement, because they feel that it makes statehood sound better than the other options. Unfortunately for the other parties, it’s the truth.
Citizens of the United States living in a State are guaranteed continued citizenship. They will be citizens of the United States and citizens of the State of Puerto Rico. They will have senators, voting congresspeople, and the chance to vote in presidential elections — all things that only citizens of States get.
Here are some further details about citizenship.
If Puerto Rico becomes a State, will Puerto Ricans be citizens?
The U.S. Constitution says in the National and State Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment that a person born or naturalized in a State of the Union becomes a citizen of the U.S. and any State of residence for life. “Naturalized” means you become a citizen not by birth but by application under federal citizenship laws applicable in the State of residence. That will not change regardless of the political status of Puerto Rico.
Before the National and State Citizenship Clause was added to the Constitution by the 14th Amendment, U.S. citizenship was acquired at birth or by naturalization under federal citizenship laws passed by Congress under the Naturalization Clause in the Constitution. Congress continues to grant citizenship to people who were not born in a State, including the children of U.S. citizens born overseas in foreign lands, or in unincorporated U.S. territories like Puerto Rico, where the Constitution and National Citizenship Clause do not apply.
If Puerto Rico becomes independent with sovereign free association status, will Puerto Ricans be citizens?
The current federal citizenship laws conferring citizenship at birth or by naturalization will be repealed to conform federal law to the U.S. treaty law recognizing Puerto Rico as a sovereign country with its own nationality, constitution, citizenship and territorial boundaries. From the moment territory status ends and sovereign nationhood begins, U.S. citizenship by birth and naturalization in Puerto Rico also will end.
Once Puerto Rico is a Free Associated State, new Puerto Ricans, whether they are immigrants or babies born on the Island, will not be able to become U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico.
Will people who acquired U.S. citizenship under federal citizenship laws based on birth in Puerto Rico in the territorial era be able to keep their citizenship and live in the U.S. if Puerto Rico has that status of sovereign free association? It’s possible. Congress could agree that people who acquired U.S. citizenship based on birth in Puerto Rico during the territorial period can chose allegiance and continuation of all the rights and privileges of U.S. citizenship in our nation and under its laws.
On the other hand, the government of Puerto Rico could decide to allow all U.S. citizens who acquired that status by birth in the territory to choose allegiance to and acquire the national citizenship of Puerto Rico.
The U.S. has said that it will not allow dual citizenship for Puerto Ricans, and Congress could say that again. Eventually, each nation has to control its own population and territory. That is what nationhood means. People would have to choose which nation — Puerto Rico or the United States — they wanted to live in and hold allegiance to.
Free association is not a status adopted to avoid difficult choices. It is a status that allows a transition from territorial status under one nation’s sovereignty to separate national sovereignty based on independence. Domestic laws of each nation must establish a mechanism for choice of allegiance and acquisition of post-territorial citizenship status. What is “subject to negotiation” is when and how a choice will be required, and on what special terms, if any, the U.S. and a sovereign Puerto Rico reciprocally allow their respective citizens to travel, reside and work in both countries as part of a transition from territorial status to separate sovereign nationhood.
7. QUESTION: Would those people born in Puerto Rico during the territorial era who chose to keep U.S. citizenship be able to pass it to their children born in Puerto Rico after it is a nation with sovereign free association status?
ANSWER: That would be free association by name only, because it would prevent Puerto Rico from establishing a body politic with its own national identity. It also would continue growth of a large populations of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico without the equal rights under the U.S. Constitution that come only with citizenship in a State. It also would give both nations sovereign interest in the internal affairs of the other, which is inconsistent with the right of independence and free termination of free association. For these reasons it should be fully expected that territorial era U.S. citizenship will not be transferable to children born in a sovereign Puerto Rico.
8. QUESTION: Why can’t universal dual citizenship be allowed given the long history of shared national citizenship between the U.S. and the territory?
That would mean citizens in Puerto Rico would have equal rights of separate national citizenship of Puerto Rico, some but less than equal rights of U.S. citizenship, and the ability to relocate to a State in the U.S. and acquire fully equal rights of U.S. citizenship. That is incompatible with U.S. law and policy, and also would require reciprocity giving U.S. citizens rights the same rights in Puerto Rico that its citizens would have in the United States. This would be territorial status by another name.