Make Them Hear You: Puerto Rican Statehood

Make Them Hear You! is a weekly feature on KGNU, produced by Chris Mohr, letting listeners know how they can have their voices heard on issues up before Congress. You can hear it Wednesday mornings at 8.20am during the Morning Magazine.

My heart goes out to all of us impacted by the recent mass shooting. In Congress, there is a continuing push for statehood for Washington DC, which enjoys very strong and unified support by the people and local government. But Democrats seem to be in a three-way split over the question of Puerto Rican statehood, and only 53% of Puerto Ricans voted for statehood in a poorly attended election. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Nydia Velázquez recently published an op-ed where they laid out their latest proposal for Puerto Rican self-determination, the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2021, titled “Puerto Rico, not Congress, must determine its future. Our bill enables it to do so.

“Understandably, many of our Democratic friends want to make the territory a state to empower it. But many Puerto Ricans view that push as the culmination of colonization. In 2017, while Puerto Rico was suffering through the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, a natural disaster that would ultimately claim nearly 3,000 lives, President Donald Trump had inquired about “selling” the Island. This heartless suggestion was discarded by his advisers.”

But, AOC writes, “this framework would be developed by Puerto Ricans and for Puerto Ricans, not dictated to them like so many previous policies. These problems and others stem from Puerto Rico’s unique, long-standing colonial status, which has resulted in the island’s residents being treated as second-class citizens. The time to remedy this situation has come, but it must be done correctly. Puerto Rico needs to be afforded the freedom to design its own future. That’s why the two of us, both members of Congress of Puerto Rican descent, have introduced the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act. The legislation that would prompt Puerto Rico’s Legislature to create a Status Convention whose delegates would be elected by Puerto Rican voters. This body would develop a long-term solution for Puerto Rico’s status, be that statehood, independence, free association or any option other than the current territorial arrangement.”

Meanwhile, Florida Democratic Rep. Darren Soto is accusing Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of reversing his stance on statehood for the island out of fear of political fallout in New York. Schumer says he thinks Puerto Rico itself must get its act together on this issue before he can back a statehood proposal. Schumer is “trying to appease politics at home,” said Soto, who last week reintroduced a House proposal, H.R. 1522 (117), for Puerto Rico statehood.

Republican Marco Rubio did not endorse Soto’s bill but instead urged his Senate colleagues to “keep an open mind and learn more about statehood before taking a firm position in opposition.” Rubio also said in a statement that he would continue to help push for “the 60 votes needed in the Senate for admission.” So, while there is 3-way disagreement on the direction Democrats want to go with the question of Puerto Rican statehood, there is at least some bipartisan support for the issue.

If you have thoughts on AOC’s Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2021 or Soto’s H.R. 1522, for Puerto Rico statehood, you can contact your Senators and representative.