Would Puerto Rico Give Up U.S. Citizenship?

There are only two real options for Puerto Rico, if the people of Puerto Rico do not want to continue as a territory.  54% voted in 2012 not to continue as a territory, so that question should be considered settled. The two possible options are Statehood, joining the Union as the 51st state, or national independence, with or without a treaty alliance known as free association, which either party can end in favor of unallied independence for Puerto Rico.

There are hundreds of large and small independent nations in the world, and there are three in free association with the United States:

  • Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)
  • The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI)
  • The Republic of Palau

The residents of these nations never were and never will be citizens of the United States, because that would be incompatible with the right of each island nation as well as the U.S. to end the alliance in favor of independence.  Also, while U.S. law allows dual citizenship to exist, the U.S. has never recognized or created dual citizenship for its citizens by operation of U.S. laws.  If Puerto Rico becomes a sovereign nation, acquisition of U.S. citizenship based on birth there will end, U.S. citizenship acquired by birth in the territory will not be passed to children born in Puerto Rico, and if Congress follows historic precedent a choice will be offered to those born in the territory between either Puerto Rican citizenship or U.S. citizenship, but not both.

We often hear that Puerto Rico won’t accept statehood because of the possibility of losing the Miss Universe competition (which may or may not be the case).  Will Puerto Rico accept independence when it means losing U.S. citizenship?

Right now, Puerto Ricans can travel freely between the Islands and the Mainland.  Nationhood with a treaty of free association might allow visa waivers for travel, at least for a transition period.  But with more people of Puerto Rican heritage living on the mainland than on the Island, the same problems of family separation faced by aliens who violate U.S. borders could arise for Puerto Ricans, especially since free association treaties with visa waivers for travel does not prevent exclusion or deportation from the U.S. for reasons such as crimes, threats to public health, or economic distress resulting in the need for public assistance.

What’s more, the people of Puerto Rico have demonstrated in so many ways that they are patriotic U.S. citizens. It might be emotionally difficult for many individuals to lose that citizenship. The PuertoRicoUSA website has collected a number of quotes from political leaders past and present demonstrating this:

  • Luis Muñoz Rivera, May 5, 1916: “My country unanimously requested U.S. citizenship many times. It requested it under the promises of General Miles when he disembarked in Ponce. Give us statehood and we would welcome your glorious citizenship for us and our children.”
  • Luis Muñoz Marin, July 17, 1951, Barranquitas: “What we have to guard against in this world we live in is not to confuse love for our patria (pueblo) with small, futile and naive concepts of nationalionalism and national state.”
  •  Luis Muñoz Marin, July 25, 1967, on the July 25th celebration: “There should be no doubt about our dedication to permanent union and our purpose of enriching the meaning of American citizenship, not only for Puerto Rico, but to all our fellow citizens of the United States, for their prestige in America and in the World.”
  • Anibal Acevedo Vila, June 23, 1998: U. S. Senate, Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Hearings on sovereignty under S. 472: “We should not be forced to give up our children’s U.S. citizenship so that we can get a fuller measure of self-government.”
  • Sila Maria Calderon, Caribbean Business, December 3, 1998:
    “I have never felt like a second-class citizen. I consider myself a U.S. citizen. I appreciate and treasure my U.S. citizenship. I would never renounce or consider losing that citizenship. I want my children and their children to always have it.”
  • Rafael Herandez Colón, 1998, “The Nation, Century to Century”: “Who are we and where are we going? We are pure and irrevocably Puerto Rican, a nation with a defined culture we’re not North Americans, although we are U.S. citizens and we’re proud to be.”
  • Sila Maria Calderon, Caribbean Business, December 3, 1998: “The people from Puerto Rico already decided they want to be permanently linked to the United States. There’s nothing else to be said about that matter.”

In fact, PuertoRicoUSA draws this conclusion about citizenship:

“At the present time both the statehood and commonwealth parties include definite, irrevocable American citizenship in their own platforms and status definitions. Both groups account for an overwhelming majority, nearly 96% of all voters (As per 1993 plebiscite). Some advocates for independence favor the retaining of both Puerto Rican and American citizenship. With this in view we can state that a totality of Puerto Rico voters would favor continuing our American citizenship.”

As citizens of the United States living in the State of Puerto Rico, the people of Puerto Rico will be Puerto Ricans, just as U.S. citizens of the State of Texas will always be Texans and those of California will always be Californians. This is the nature of the United States: we are citizens of our states and of our nation. Puerto Rico can have this through statehood, but not through independence.

This quote makes the most important point of all, which is the full rights of U.S. citizenship can be achieved only for citizens who reside in a state.  U.S. citizens in territories can acquire and enjoy more rights than residents of tiny territories like American Samoa who are still “nationals,” the same subjected status Puerto Ricans had under the Foraker Act from 1900 to 1917 when statutory citizenship was granted.  But full rights of citizenship including consent of the governed and full constitutionally conferred U.S. citizenship is not possible without statehood.

One more historical quote from PuertoRicoUSA seems particularly fitting for our current situation:

“It is only fitting that a Republican Congress should give the people of Puerto Rico what so many Republican presidents sought to achieve – a way to determine for themselves the government they should have.” –Ralph Reed

Once independent, it is very unlikely that Puerto Rico will ever be allowed to return to territory status or be admitted as a state.  Only one out of 50 states was admitted as a republic: Texas.

33 Comments

Daniel P. Arroyo

It is time for congress hear our voice we want ether Statehood or Independence in our next plebicite it should be Statehood or Independence we have voted already against this colonial status

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Dennis Freytes

Most born in Puerto Rico have a statutory US Citizenship that could be lost under Independence…. Some sources:
o Besides, Thornburgh states: “The ruling of the Supreme Court in Rogers v. Bellei 401 U.S. 815 (1970), regarding the nature of statutory citizenship is consistent with the conclusion that even a statutory extension of the Fourteenth Amendment to Puerto Rico could not limit the discretion of Congress to amend or repeal that statutory extension.”
o “Thus, the U.S. citizenship created under 8 U.S.C. §1402 does not and cannot offer the permanent or constitutional protection of the Fourteenth Amendment to the people of Puerto Rico. Similarly, the protection of persons born in a State of the Union under Afroyim v. Rusk 307 U.S. 253 (1967) would not prevent Congress from changing laws defining the citizenship of people born in Puerto Rico.”
7. President W. Bush Report: “If P.R. were to become independent “… those…who had U.S. Citizenship only by statute would cease to be citizens of the United States, unless a different rule were prescribed by legislation or treaty…” (Page 9)
(NOTE:Our Constitution only mentions two forms of permanent Citizenship: if you are born in a State or if you are “Naturalized” –in a State. It doesn’t mention “statutory citizenship”. Besides, you can’t be a sovereign Nation with the Citizenship and Constitution of another Nation! Where would the loyalty lie? Congress, in 1917, imposed this “statutory” American Citizenship through a Statue/Law that a future Congress can rescind…; the US Constitution is not equally applied to PR. Thus, some U.S. Citizens may not have the same equal/permanent Constitutional American Citizenship as others—born in the States or Naturalized.)

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Should America Revoke U.S. Citizenship for Puerto Ricans? - Gay Pop Buzz

[…] fact, recent polls in Puerto Rico show the majority of its citizens want their island to become a […]

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George Ralph

The reasons for retaining Puerto Rico as a Commonwealth have long since passed. The status of PR should be settled: statehood or independence. This requires not only (presumably) the consent of the citizens there, but majority approval in both houses of Congress. It is doubtful that the latter will ever be achieved, given the time that has gone by thus far and PR’s present economic status (bringing only debt, undeserved pension obligations, and little chance for growth to the table).
States can’t declare bankruptcy (and the US already has Illinois and NJ, so we have our quota of economically-challenges and corruption). Puerto Rico is well past the point of no return and any “rescue” should be the last before granting independence. That should be done with some deference to not turning out all the lights, but no more than that given the self-made mess PR brewed for itself.
Citizens of PR who choose to remain there will become just that – Puerto Rican citizens; no longer statutory US citizens. Visitation like with any other country where immigration may need to be controlled (i.e. visas, deportation as necessary). The majority will have gotten what it wants (54% for independence), but independence comes at a price.

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George Ralph

Puerto Rico: Time to Cut the Cord

The reasons for retaining Puerto Rico as a Commonwealth have long since passed. The status of PR should be settled: statehood or independence. This requires not only (presumably) the consent of the citizens there, but majority approval in both houses of Congress. It is doubtful that the latter will ever be achieved, given the time that has gone by thus far and PR’s present economic status (bringing to the table only debt, undeserved pension obligations, and little chance for growth).
States can’t declare bankruptcy (and the US already has Illinois and NJ, so we have our quota of the economically-challenged and corrupt). Puerto Rico is well past the point of no return and any “rescue” should be the last before granting independence. That should be done with some deference to not turning out all the lights, but no more than that, given the mess PR brewed entirely for itself (as much as Democrats like to blame creditors, PR is – presumably – a fully capable government, not some poor unaware farmhand being offered a too-good-to-be-true mortgage).
Citizens of PR who choose to remain there will become just that – Puerto Rican citizens; no longer statutory US citizens. Visitation will proceed as with any other country where immigration may need to be controlled (i.e. visas, deportation as necessary). The majority will have gotten what it wants (54% for independence), but independence comes at a price.

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Joe P.

Yo Georgy so now that the Puertoricans are demanding EQUALITY the time has come to “cut the cord” after 119 years. Gee , the powers-that-be knew back in 1898 that we were brown skinned stump jumpers , reason a racist SCOTUS ruled that we were an UNINCORPORATED territory .

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Felipe

Its true, so we can trade and have other countries and businesses want to deal with us, FREE la isla!

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JOSEPH COLON

A SAD STATE OF AFFAIRS FOR PUERTO RICO AND THE USA. NEGLIGENCE ON BOTH PARTS. THE LEGAL RELATIONSHIP HAS BEEN OVERLOOK BY BOTH PARTIES. CONGRESS OVERLOOKED PRESIDENDIAL INTRUSION
AND PUERTO RICO PERCEIVED IT AS APOLITICAL ARRANGEMENT, NOT A LEGAL RELATIOSHIP. BOTH ARE AWAKING
TO THE REAL ISSUE, WHICH IS , CONGRESS COMPLACENT WITH DIRECTIVES AND PUERTO RICOS DREAM OF A BETTER LIFE WITH DISREGARD TO ACCOUNTABILITY
CANT’ GO BACK IN TIME,LETS GO FORWARD: PROVIDE PR. DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE, QUIDE FOR A SHORT TERM, ALLOW ITS DEMOCRATIC WAYS OF SELF GOVERNMENT, DO NOT INTERFEAR IN THE DEMOCRATIC LOCAL
PROCESS AND HELP ADMINISTER THE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AS FREE SOCIETY UNDER A GREAT NATION
WHICH THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IS. CONGRESS AFTER WAR YOU HAVE RECONSTRUCTED OTHERS, BE,
DO, AND ASSIST PUERTO RICO IN ITS ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. DON’T SHOW ANGER, YOUR ALSO A PARTICIPANT IN THIS DEBACLE.

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Felix A Pacheco Luquis

I Felix A Pacheco Belive That PUERTO RICO Should Become independent Nations We Enter Your Wars side to side Now it’s Time Puerto Rico To Getter There independent.So Give Us Our Independent Now .We Could Do It.That Those not mean that we put a Rican could be friends with the US but we want to be a nation it’s been long overdue and to Victory always God bless our Puerto Rico iLike American Say God Bless America.

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TAINO BORICUA

THE PEOPLE OF PUERTO RICO ALREADY VOTED IN FAVOR OF “STATEHOOD” IN 2012 ..SO WHAT IS THE PROBLEM? U.S.A AND CONGRESS?

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TAINO BORICUA

THE PEOPLE OF PUERTO RICO ..VOTED..IN FAVOR OF {STATE-HOOD} IN 2012,,,USA CONGRESS AND SENATE HAS THE FINAL SAY SO.

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Carlos Nieves

Since the U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico in 1898, Washington’s relationship with Puerto Rico has been one of exploitation and convenience. From the Ponce Massacre and government-sanctioned programs aimed at forcibly sterilizing working class Puerto Rican women to unethical testing and human radiation experiments on Puerto Rican prisoners, the U.S. government has a shameful track record of transgressions on the island.

And let’s not forget Vieques: for more than 60 years the U.S. Navy used the island of Vieques as target practice. Though the bombings stopped in 2003, the U.S.’ legacy on Vieques continues in the form of destroyed land (over half the island is uninhabitable), shattered livelihoods, and increased rates of cancer, birth defects, and illnesses — the result of contamination from years of continuous bombings.

Yet because Puerto Rico lacks any real autonomy or representation, these and other travesties — both social and economic — are largely ignored. Independence would hold accountable elected representatives at all levels of government and restore power to the people.

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Carlos Nieves

For far too long, the people of Puerto Rico have chosen to accept the comfort of a familiar yet broken status quo over the uncertainty of real, revolutionary change. Indeed, many on the island and in the diaspora adhere to a colonized mentality, one that believes an independent Puerto Rico is economically unsustainable. But liberated nations across Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America have demonstrated otherwise.

Singapore is a prime example. With a size 14 times smaller than Puerto Rico, less natural resources, and a significantly higher population density, Singapore has thrived socially and economically since gaining independence — even exceeding the per capita income of the United States.

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Pedro Rodriguez

Good point, if only PR can get Lee Kuan Yew as a leader or even as a overseer !

Pedro

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Pr

Freedom for PR we are not your Arny reserves! We are people who deserve the right to self governance

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Emmanuel Caceres

Those that seek statehood have no clear understanding about freedom and have been brainwashed by the Socialist Statehood Propaganda.

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John Romer

The United States Federal Congress should decide in by passing/ratifying a resolution once and for all on the citizens of Puerto Rico … whether bringing in as a functional state of the union or independence,: this limbo has to end

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James Dornacker

Oscar Lopez Rivera, carmin Yulin, all those independistas care about no one except themselves and lining there pockets, they want a Venezuela type government to continue the corruption and stealing from the people of Puerto Rico, estado 51 ACCOUNTIBILLITY PR51

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Luis

Statehood,if not for puertorican leaving in the island and dont want it u.s Citizen free then.

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Alejandro Suarez

This entire article is pointless because it does not point out a single federal law or legal precedent in which citizens of a former territory are obligated to give up their citizenship. THIS IS A MYTH that pro-statehood people use to instill fear into the hearts of the ignorant. Control through fear is a pathetic strategy and unbecoming of civilized adults. The passing down of citizenship by birth applies to any US citizen’s family living anywhere in the world. For example : Ted Cruz’ parents in Canada, John McCain in Panama, soldiers having kids in Germany, etc.

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