US Citizenship and Puerto Rico, posted 2/23/13

U.S. Citizenship and Puerto Rico

On March 2nd, it will be 96 years since the Jones Act, the 1917 Organic Law of Puerto Rico, gave U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans. Those that were not citizens of the United States were granted statutory citizenship according to the powers of the President and U.S. Congress.

As such, since March of 1917 and until January of 1941, the children of those who voluntarily became U.S. Citizens under the Jones Act, were considered “de jure” citizens (by law) and not by naturalization. This is statutory citizenship rather than citizenship arising from birth or naturalization in a state of the Union under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In 1922, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that Puerto Rico was an unincorporated territory. (Balzac v. Puerto Rico) The court determined that the Constitution and Bill of Rights did not apply in territories, such as Puerto Rico, in full force as it did in the states of the union. By doing so, the Supreme Court excluded Puerto Ricans (U.S. citizens) residing in Puerto Rico from equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.

The Immigration and nationality Act of 1940, (Naturalization Act, Jan 1941) guaranteed that all persons born in a jurisdiction subordinate to the United States, including the territory of Puerto Rico, would be citizens of the United States.

Nevertheless, it was not until 1952 that President Truman officially recognized that “a person who was born in Puerto Rico after January 13, 1941, was a native (natural) citizen of the United States.”

In 1947, Public Law 362 (Governor Elect Act), expanded the scope of the Constitution of the United States to Puerto Ricans and established that the rights, privileges and immunities of the United States will be respected in the territory of Puerto Rico to the same extent as if Puerto Rico were a state of the Union subject to the provisions of Article IV of the Constitution. However, Puerto Ricans (American Citizens) who reside in Puerto Rico do not enjoy all of the rights enumerated and the immunities guaranteed by the Constitution to all other U.S. citizens who reside in any of the 50 states of the Union.

In effect, the SCOTUS decision defined a second class citizenry in Puerto Rico and established a condition of geographic segregation that denies U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans included, residing in the island the right to vote for President and Commander in Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces.

U.S. Citizens who reside in U.S. Territories, like Puerto Rico, are denied other political rights and from participating in the constitutional structure of government; are denied the right to be considered equal in status and to the same benefits under federal law; cannot participate in federal/national elections; cannot elect Congressmen and Senators; and do not have the U.S. citizenship guaranteed for future generations.

We are second-class citizens of a colonial territory legally and constitutionally flawed and limited in authority. The critical thinking of Dr. Martin Luther King in the civil rights struggle still resonates, “who is deprived of his constitutional rights becomes a foreigner in his own country.”

We believe that U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico should have the same rights, responsibilities and opportunities enjoyed by U.S. citizens in all fifty states of the Union.

Regardless of past achievements, the residents of Puerto Rico are subject to a political system that denies them full equality under the law and U.S. Constitution as citizens of the United States and direct participation in the national government.

The people of Puerto Rico voted in a democratic, honest and fair referendum held on November 6th, 2012, The U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico rejected the consent of the governed for the current territorial status, defeated the current territorial status and voted in favor of statehood.

** Hernan Padilla, MD, Former Mayor of San Juan, Former President of the U.S. Conference of mayors and President of Igualdad ( Equality), a non-partisan organization that endorses statehood for Puerto Rico

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