As the nation finds itself in the midst of the first 100 days of the Biden presidency, the American people await what bold agenda the administration chooses to pursue. Why not equality for over three million Americans by prioritizing statehood for Puerto Rico?
Puerto Ricans, American citizens since 1917, have served in every one of our nation’s wars since World War I. They have defended godforsaken hilltops on the Korean peninsula, trudged through jungles in Vietnam, and scaled mountains in Afghanistan.
Over 1,200 have died in service to their country, and nine have earned the Medal of Honor. Yet, when Puerto Rican veterans return to their beloved island, shameful inequality awaits them.
Our brothers and sisters in arms, our fellow Marines, sailors, airmen, guardians, and soldiers, cannot vote for their commander-in-chief and cannot elect a full delegation to Congress, as they lack voting powers.
Despite paying the same payroll taxes as every other American, they and their family members receive a meager fraction of some federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. They are only eligible for the inferior Nutritional Assistance Program, and they are ineligible for Supplemental Security Income.
Statehood for Puerto Rico
The status that awaits our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico is a relic of a bygone era, when the same United States Supreme Court that confirmed the racist doctrine of “separate but equal” labeled residents of Puerto Rico as “alien races.”
The “Insular Cases” that categorized Puerto Ricans as inferior Americans are still in effect. These cases undergird the discrimination in federal funding and the disenfranchisement to which Puerto Ricans, including thousands of our fellow service members and veterans, are still subject.
Statehood for Puerto Rico is not only the right solution to the unequal treatment of Americans in Puerto Rico, but it is also the simplest.
Congress has the constitutional authority to admit new states and can do so by a simple majority in favor of an admissions act or resolution. This is considerably simpler than amending the US Constitution to grant Puerto Ricans the right to vote for president, a complex process that partially enfranchises Puerto Ricans but does not eliminate the problem of funding discrimination.
Even more important is the fact that the US citizens of Puerto Rico want statehood. With three pro-statehood votes since 2012, a pro-statehood governor, and a pro-statehood non-voting member of Congress, the consensus in Puerto Rico clearly supersedes the division that exists surrounding the question of status. Within the last 10 years, Puerto Rican voters have consistently headed to the polls, demonstrating consensus through their ballots: they have chosen statehood every time.
Civil Rights Vacuum
And yet, despite clear mandates at the polls, Puerto Rico’s civil rights vacuum persists. The deployment of over 200 Puerto Rican National Guardsmen to the Capitol – chambers in which they have no vote – to safeguard the inauguration of a president they could not elect is the most recent and shameful testament to the injustice exacted on the Puerto Rican service member.
There is no room for second-class citizenship in the United States. It is time for President Biden and Congressional leadership of both parties to act and end the de facto colonial status of Puerto Rico that has persisted since the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898.
Puerto Rico has earned its place in the American Union through over a century of spilt blood, shared service, and a common sacred citizenship. President Biden has a historic opportunity to address this disgraceful inequality and denial of civil rights to over three million American citizens. He must compel Congress to take action.
Mr. President, it is time for equality, and it is time for statehood for Puerto Rico.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.