Jun 7, 2022 - World

U.S. lawmakers push for binding vote on Puerto Rico's status

A man rides past signs calling for a vote on Puerto Rican statehood. Photo: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images.

Posters in San Juan in 2017 call for a vote on Puerto Rican statehood. Photo: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images.

Some U.S. lawmakers are making a major push to give Puerto Ricans a real shot at deciding whether to become a state.

Driving the news: Members of Congress were in San Juan this weekend for contentious public hearings on a draft bill known as the The Puerto Rico Status Act.

  • The bill, not yet introduced but modeled after two competing bills introduced last year in Congress, would set a binding referendum on statehood for November 2023.
  • Puerto Ricans would be able to decide whether they want statehood, independence, or an independence that retains certain links to the U.S.
  • But congressional leaders haven't decided when to introduce the legislation.

Why it matters: Many Puerto Ricans have fought for decades for statehood.

  • Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and have a non-voting congressional representative, but they can’t vote for president.
  • Many feel their "unincorporated territory" status makes them second-class citizens. For example, an April U.S. Supreme Court decision restricted Puerto Ricans’ access to disability benefits.
  • Proponents of statehood claim the island merits an incorporation process akin to Hawaii’s in the 1950s.

The big picture: Puerto Rico has held six referendums on statehood, most recently in November 2020, when 52.5% of voters said it should become the 51st state.

  • But they weren’t binding because only Congress can change the territory status that has been in effect since 1898.

But, but, but: Even if the measure passes in the House, it has little hope of advancing in the Senate.

What they’re saying: “The legacy of Puerto Rico being a colony for 124 years is a legacy that has to change,” U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who heads the committee overseeing legislation of U.S. territories, told Bloomberg. “I think there will be a great deal of public initiative to move this forward and I hope the Senate pays attention.”

Editor's note: The photo caption in this story has been corrected to show it was taken in 2017, not 2018. Also, the headline on this story has been updated to reflect there are options besides statehood.

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