Geographical Discrimination and Political Inequality against US Citizens; The Hill, Tuesday 10/28/14
Geographical Discrimination and Political Inequality against US Citizens
By Hernan Padilla, MD
Polls show that 95% of Puerto Ricans treasure their American citizenship. The President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico recommends that the People of Puerto Rico should decide on a constitutionally acceptable non territorial status for Puerto Rico to resolve their Status. The ruling colonial Popular Democratic Party has been overwhelmed on how to reconcile American Citizenship within their multiple versions of a non territorial status (Enhanced Commonwealth or Free Association).
A group of us have undertaken the task of providing factual information about how the Residents of Puerto Rico came to be offered US Citizenship in 1917.
The Scholarly article published by Judge Jose A. Cabranes, in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, and the subsequent book entitled “Citizenship and the American Empire” published by Yale University Press in 1979 offers a trove of factual information on the 17 year history that led to the Jones Act of 1917, offering US Citizenship to the residents of Puerto Rico.
Now Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor, actively participated in the research that resulted in Cabranes work. Using the Congressional Record and other unchallengeable sources Cabranes seminal research work documents that the American Citizenship conferred to residents of Puerto Rico in 1917 is the same as that of any citizen born in any State of the Union.
In an article published by Professor, Dr. Manuel Gomez, analyzing the work of Cabranes, concludes that inequality is a result of “geographical discrimination” against US citizens residing in the colonial territory named “Estado Libre Asociado” (Commonwealth of Puerto Rico). This inequality extends to all US Citizens who move from any State to Puerto Rico, thus by moving to the territory they lose their voting rights to elect any Federal Official including the President.
Proof that American Citizenship granted to the residents of Puerto Rico in 1917 is equal to the Citizenship of any American born in a State of the Union was validated in the 1940 and 1952 Nationality Acts. Thus inequality under US Citizenship is strictly an issue of “Geographic Discrimination” that only applies to US Citizen who reside in Puerto Rico.
We concur with Cabranes, geographic discrimination is not aimed at individual US citizen born in Puerto Rico. The inequality disappears simply by relocating to any of the 50 states.
The process of granting American citizenship started 17 years before the Jones Act. As stated by Cabranes, on January 1912, Senator Foraker presented the first of a series of bills to grant collective US citizenship to Puerto Ricans.
In the Peace Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish-American War, the Philippines and Puerto Rico were classified simply as possessions. Cabranes maintains that Congress undermined the concept of territory in the Constitution, by classifying Puerto Rico as the first Unincorporated Territory, in effect treating Puerto Rico as a “possessions or dependencies” without any commitment to citizenship, incorporation or statehood.
In 1916, when it was decided that the Philippines would become an independent nation, and Puerto Rico would be treated as part of the United States, American Citizenship was offered. Cabranes states that the collective naturalization of Puerto Ricans in 1917 was a determinant event in the political relationship of Puerto Rico with its Fellow American.
The lengthily debate in Congress over the Jones Project, granting US citizenship to those born in Puerto Rico, illustrates the political vision of the island at the time. Then Resident Commissioner at the time Luis Munoz Rivera, stated that although he preferred independence, that was a matter of his own personal feelings. Puerto Rico would accept statehood if offered. “Yet, if you tender statehood now, I in the name of my people accept statehood”.
US Congress opened the doors for Puerto Rico to be an integral part of the United States in 1917. The destiny of our people was intertwined forever with our Fellow Americans when voluntarily the 1.2 million residents of Puerto Rico accepted American Citizenship, only 288 declined the offer.
In the words of Cabranes, a second class citizenship was institutionalized for Puerto Rico residents without expectancy of equality, thus perpetuating a colonial status within the US Flag.
The people of Puerto Rico aspire for a brighter and better future without having to move to a State in order to enjoy all constitutional and civil rights.
The answer after almost a hundred years of Geographic Discrimination is statehood for Puerto Rico. It is long overdue and it’s time has come at last.
Padilla is the former mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, former president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the current president Founder’s Council of Igualdad, a nonpartisan organization that favors statehood for PR.