Proposed Puerto Rican Statehood Scheduled for a Vote in Congress

June 17, 2021 by Tom Ramstack
(Photo via Pixabay)

WASHINGTON — The chances for Puerto Rico to become the 51st U.S. state never seemed brighter than during a congressional hearing Wednesday, despite opposition from top Republicans.

Congress is expected to vote on a bill that proposes Puerto Rican statehood within days.

It is supported by Puerto Rico’s governor, a majority of the Caribbean island’s voters in a referendum last year and has won a qualified endorsement from the Biden administration.

“God has placed in your hands the opportunity to do justice to the people of Puerto Rico,” Rev. Carmen Cabrera, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens Faith Council, told the House Natural Resources Committee.

Although she supports statehood, some lawmakers expressed deep reservations about possible culture clash.

In addition, 47.48% of Puerto Ricans voted against changing their status from a U.S. territory to a state in the 2020 referendum.

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., mentioned a recent poll showing 76% of Puerto Ricans would not want to abandon Spanish as their first language if they gain statehood.

“The language of the United States is English. Period,” McClintock said.

Rafael Cox Alomar, a professor of constitutional law at the University of the District of Columbia, said there was no constitutional obstacle to granting statehood, only “an issue of political will or the lack thereof.”

He added, “We have a heritage that is different from the Anglo heritage.”

None of the legal experts who testified doubted that Congress needed to re-evaluate Puerto Rico’s status with the United States. However, they disagreed on the form of the proposals.

The options are independence, statehood or an ongoing relationship as a U.S. territory.

A leading bill is the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act, H.R. 1522, which would submit the question to a final vote by residents, subject to ratification by Congress.

The other one is the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2021, H.R. 2070, which proposes that delegates elected by Puerto Rican voters define their relationship with the United States. It also sets a procedure for Congress to decide whether to ratify any changes in status they choose.

A co-sponsor is Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, D-N.Y, who said, “It contains guarantees and mandates for a full information campaign so that Puerto Ricans know what they vote for.”

Currently, Puerto Rico has a governor as well as its own House of Representatives and Senate. Residents are U.S. citizens but have no voting representatives in Congress and cannot vote for president.

Puerto Rico is heavily Democratic, which means statehood likely would shift more power away from Republicans.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. is a leading critic of granting statehood.

A 2020 Democratic Party policy statement, which was endorsed by President Joe Biden, neither supports nor opposes Puerto Rican statehood.

“The people of Puerto Rico deserve self-determination on the issue of status,” the statement says.

Puerto Ricans have held several referendums on statehood since the island was acquired by the United States in 1898. No undisputed majority showed clear support for the proposals.

The 52.52% majority in the November 2020 referendum followed growing disillusionment with Puerto Rico’s territorial status after persistent economic failures as well as a lack of access to federal funds after disasters, such as Hurricane Maria and the COVID-19 pandemic.

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