Congress Should Honor Puerto Rico’s Statehood Decision on November 3rd
COMMENTARY

October 20, 2020by Gabriela M. Medina Marrero and José A. Cabrera
(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

On November 3rd, Puerto Ricans will head to the polls to answer a simple question with powerful implications: “Should Puerto Rico be admitted immediately into the Union as a State? Yes or No.” 

This is not the first time Puerto Ricans have set out to answer this question. In 2012 and again in 2017, Puerto Ricans overwhelmingly voted in favor of statehood. Following each of those votes, opponents of statehood nonetheless tried to delegitimize their significance, citing low turnout or allegedly confusing language on the ballot. This year, all status factions are actively campaigning for a yes or no vote, and the straightforward question on the ballot will yield a clear, majority result.   

If Puerto Ricans vote yes, it will be a powerful and unequivocal mandate for statehood. Members of Congress will be hard-pressed to ignore the will of their fellow U.S. citizens, and the weight of a democratic result should compel Congress to initiate the process of making Puerto Rico a state.  

Regardless of where you side on the issue, it is clear that Puerto Ricans are fed up with conditions in the U.S. territory. After all, in 2012 voters withdrew their consent to be governed under Puerto Rico’s territorial status, and rightly so.

First, the unequal treatment of Puerto Rico under federal law violates the most basic principles of democracy and equality. Puerto Ricans cannot vote for the President of the United States and do not have voting representation in Congress, despite the fact that Puerto Ricans pay many of the same taxes as stateside residents. This most appalling disenfranchisement of Americans is particularly egregious to the legions of Puerto Rican service members and veterans who have defended our freedoms overseas and who are shamefully denied their rights at home.  

Furthermore, Puerto Rico’s territorial status has stifled economic growth in the islands. Haphazard tax and trade regulations handed down by Congress have deterred businesses from establishing operations in Puerto Rico, negating much needed investment and jobs.  As a result, in August 2020 Puerto Rico had the second highest unemployment rate in the United States. 

Given these factors, millions have voted with a plane ticket for the better life that statehood offers. Nearly six million Puerto Ricans now live stateside, while just over three million reside in the islands. The pervasive lack of opportunities that Puerto Rico’s territorial status causes has led Puerto Ricans to opt for statehood elsewhere.

Despite the eloquence of the Puerto Rican stateside migration, lately we’ve heard discussion by both Republicans and Democrats about the merits and implications of Puerto Rico statehood. A simple fact remains: statehood is good for both Puerto Rico and the states. 

History has proven that territories that become states have seen remarkable improvements in their economic positions. Both Hawaii and Alaska, which joined the Union in 1959, were mired in poverty before they became states. Now, both have poverty rates and unemployment rates below the national average. Statehood would give Puerto Rico a chance to follow suit.

Puerto Rico is also a net economic benefit to the mainland, engaging in billions in interstate commerce. The U.S. economy benefits from Puerto Ricans demanding goods and services, in addition to mainlanders seeking goods and services produced in Puerto Rico. Statehood would produce an increase in interstate commerce, resulting in an even greater economic benefit for both the islands and the rest of the country. 

Solving Puerto Rico’s political uncertainty, along with full federal support finally going to the islands, would give Puerto Ricans a chance to create a better climate for investment and opportunity. Statehood would provide Puerto Rico the tools to improve its infrastructure, utilities, and market attractiveness in ways that would draw employers to the islands and spur local entrepreneurs to launch ventures that would create much-needed jobs.  

A stronger economy would also keep Puerto Ricans from leaving for the mainland in such large numbers and prompt the return of those who wish to enjoy a better life on their beloved islands. This would halt the current brain drain that afflicts Puerto Rico and offset the rapid aging of the local population, two key challenges for the long-term economic prosperity of the islands.

The stakes of the upcoming referendum could not be greater for the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico. With our hopes, dreams, and rights on the line, we will go to the polls in November and demand the fullest measure of equality that only statehood can provide.

If we choose statehood, it would be unconscionable for elected officials in Washington to continue treating us as second class-citizens for perceived political expediency. While the results of the referendum won’t legally compel congressional leaders on either side of the aisle to act upon the expressed will of Puerto Ricans, they will certainly have a moral duty to do so. 


Gabriela M. Medina Marrero, an EEO compliance and affirmative action specialist, is the President of the Young Democrats of Puerto Rico. José A. Cabrera, an attorney and U.S. Army veteran, is the Co-Chairman of the Puerto Rico Young Republican Federation.

Opinions

The Dangerous Seduction of ‘Back to Normal’
Opinions
The Dangerous Seduction of ‘Back to Normal’
November 30, 2020
by Robert B. Reich

“Life is going to return to normal,” Joe Biden promised last week in a Thanksgiving address to the nation. He was talking about life after COVID-19, but you could be forgiven if you thought he was also making a promise about life after Donald Trump. It’s... Read More

Pandemic-leveraging ‘Great Reset’ Is Hardly a Myth
Opinions
Pandemic-leveraging ‘Great Reset’ Is Hardly a Myth
November 24, 2020
by Rachel Marsden

PARIS — Mainstream media outlets have spilled copious amounts of ink dismissing the “Great Reset” — the notion that the global COVID-19 pandemic is being exploited by global decisionmakers to usher in a self-serving agenda — as little more than a figment of active imaginations. The... Read More

Trump Is Stress-testing American Democracy
Opinions
Trump Is Stress-testing American Democracy
November 23, 2020
by Robert B. Reich

Financial regulators subject banks to stress tests to see if they have enough capital to withstand sharp downturns. Now America is being subject to a stress test to see if it has enough strength to withstand Donald Trump’s treacherous campaign to discredit the 2020 presidential election.... Read More

Commentary | Energy Was On The Ballot This November
Opinions
Commentary | Energy Was On The Ballot This November

Two years ago, Democrats won back control of the U.S. House by nominating largely moderate candidates in swing districts who ignored litmus test issues like the Green New Deal and refused to be defined by extreme economic and energy policies like bans on fracking.  Two years... Read More

Abolish Electoral College? Sure, and Why Not Let ‘Majority Rule’ on the Bill of Rights?
Opinions
Abolish Electoral College? Sure, and Why Not Let ‘Majority Rule’ on the Bill of Rights?
November 18, 2020
by John Kass

When we were kids on the playground and there was an angry dispute, someone would always shout “majority rules.” And we’d vote. If the losers didn’t like the outcome, there were two options: punch the winners in the stomach or take the ball and go home.... Read More

Now More Than Ever We Need Science, Not Politics
Opinions
Now More Than Ever We Need Science, Not Politics

The global COVID-19 pandemic, with all its devastating consequences, has reaffirmed why science must be at the center of policy considerations, political debate, and media attention. But, lamentably, it is often at the center for all the wrong reasons. Against a backdrop of growing tensions and... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top