Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. What does that mean?
The United States is composed of 50 states, plus some additional land that belongs to the U.S. and is governed directly by the federal government. 32 of the 50 states used to be territories, so the definition of a territory often includes the fact that the place isn’t yet a state.
In the past, a territory was often a piece of land that didn’t yet have enough people to be a state. It might be a place that didn’t have an organized government yet. Sometimes the borders and names of territories changed because the territory was still too unsettled to be defined; in these cases, statehood had to wait till the borders were decided.
Sometimes it took a long time for the territory and the federal government to agree on details — Arizona, for example, fought for statehood for 56 years.
Puerto Rico has plenty of residents — 3.5 million. It also has an organized local government and a constitution approved by Congress, both things that territories must have in order to become states. Unlike state governments, a territory’s government has local authority given by Congress. It is only the government of the territory because Congress allows it to be, and that can change at any time.
As long as it is a territory, a possession of the United States belongs to the U.S. but does not have the rights of a state. The Supreme Court has said that territories can be treated differently from states.
In Puerto Rico, for example, medical care is not paid for in the same way as it is in the states. The federal government pays less for the health care of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico than for citizens who live in states.
A U.S. territory is a possession of the United States, a piece of land that belongs to the government and is not part of a state. Puerto Rico was given by Spain to the United States after the Spanish-American War and has never become a state. That’s why it’s a territory.
And that’s the simple answer to the question, “Why is Puerto Rico a territory?” Because it’s not a state.
It’s time for Puerto Rico to become a state. Tell your legislators that you want action.