Puerto Rican Statehood: An Ideological Imperative

Puerto Rico was hit particularly hard by Hurricane Fiona this September, when it never even fully recovered from Hurricane Maria, which hit more than 5 years ago. It is absurd that the U.S. legislature refuses to allocate sufficient funds to a territory that three million Americans call home with no other means of such an immense and necessary sum. The ambivalence with which Puerto Rico is treated, as though it is somehow less deserving of attention than any of the 50 states, reflects a colonial attitude which should be stomped out entirely. We keep a territory under our union, grant them American citizenship, keep them under American federal law, tax them under federal law and yet provide them with no adequate representation within our Congress and insufficient support. It is flatly antithetical to the very core values of our nation. Puerto Rico deserves to either have its voice be heard or to be let go. 

Every person deserves representation within their government; however, in a territory of over three million, there is but one representative, known as the Resident Commissioner. This singular representative lacks so much as a single House floor vote, despite representing a population greater than that of 20 US states combined. To give you an idea of how unprecedented that is, the absolute highest ratio of citizens to a single federal representative that exists across all 50 states is 994,416 people to one representative. Most states have around 700,000 people to every one representative. What makes Puerto Rico so different? Nothing. How can we claim that representation is of the utmost importance to Americans—that it is an unshakable value of ours—while simultaneously depriving our own citizens of that very right? Puerto Rico could finally have a national voice from which to project its interests, to protect its citizens, and to further their own causes if they were granted statehood. No longer would it be the case that an entirely distant set of legislators, none of whom pay any large degree of mind to Puerto Rico, would have complete sway over Puerto Rican affairs. It’s really only logical to see the clear parallels between what we allow to be done to Puerto Rico today and the state of our country at its inception. There is undeniable irony in the fact that we, as a country that exists out of a desire to be taxed only under representation, now refuse to grant that same right to a people demanding what we once demanded. 

Perhaps if it were the case that Puerto Rico wished for independence or that they wished to continue as a commonwealth there would be some rationale for inaction, but such is not the case. While a proper, more all-encompassing referendum should be held to ensure that such is the wish of the Puerto Rican people, referendums held over the last 60 years have shown that there is extremely strong support for statehood on the island. The last referendum saw 52.5 percent of Puerto Ricans voting in favor of statehood, and the one prior to that showed numbers north of 97 percent. Of course, voter turnout is the main difference between these two examples and thus a larger sample size is required, but the point stands all the same: Puerto Rico itself is generally pro-statehood. 

I’ve heard the anti-statehood arguments, and so many of them focus on the logistics of such an integration, never on whether or not statehood would theoretically be the right choice. Of course, actual integration is very different from theory, but if something is agreed upon in theory, then integration should be the ultimate goal. Yet, it’s impossible to argue that Puerto Rico doesn’t deserve representation while still adhering to our proclaimed values. The only other logical alternative to statehood is Puerto Rican independence, but independence is desired by very few. 

The Heritage Foundation, a famed conservative think tank, speaks extensively about the economic impacts, the greater responsibility, the political implications, and the U.S.-Puerto Rican cultural differences. To whine that statehood would bring on greater financial responsibility for the U.S. government essentially amounts to complaining that you would have to care for U.S. citizens in the aftermath of a disaster, or to properly support Puerto Rico financially. The care which the Foundation rallies against is something which is done in every state without question. Yet, the mere thought of Puerto Rico receiving proper aid is enough for the Foundation to slap away statehood. It is sickening that they imply some citizens should be treated as secondary to others, as though Puerto Ricans, due to the expense which the U.S. government might incur by having to actually take care of them, are not worthy of full recognition. The Foundation continues on to warn of the possibility of Puerto Rican representatives voting in favor of liberal causes, as though voting in favor of their own interest is somehow abominable. Most egregious of all, to speak of cultural differences is similarly tasteless—and ignores the fact that these “cultural differences” already exist. 

Puerto Rico has, for too long, been relegated to the back of the government’s mind. There are millions of American Puerto Ricans who remain unspoken for, whose views are yet unheard, and who remain unsupported by their own government. It goes against every basic American value to let this state of affairs continue, and there is simply no rationale which could merit turning our backs on our own founding principles. Grant Puerto Rico what it is owed: statehood.