We the “segregated” people; The Hill, 04/27/2015

We the “segregated” people; The Hill,
Hernán Padilla*
While the current government of Puerto Rico tries to resolve the economic crisis with measures that have proven extremely ineffective, Congress must recognize that what lies at the heart of a great many of the Territory’s most serious problems is its inferior political status that denies local citizens, equal rights and privileges that constitutionally belong to all Americans.

In the mid-20th century, Puerto Rico became the first Territory in the Nation’s history which The Congress authorized to enact a local constitution and a federally guaranteed Republican Form of Government. In doing so, Congress and the Executive Branch provided PR with the powers which had historically been bestowed exclusively to Incorporated and/or Organized Territories prior to being admitted as States.

Leaders of the PPD and supporters of the current territorial-colonial status accepted public funds and actively campaigned in a referendum held in 2012, which addressed multiple status options, including remaining as a colony. However, the voters revoked the consent of the governed for the current territorial status, and an ample margin of 61% voted in favor of statehood.

Correctly so, the Statehood movement, in general, continues to voice their frustration over the perpetuation of the current status because, despite the significant democratic mandate for statehood, Congress has not adopted the necessary measures to respect “the will of The People”. Congress must act to terminate the centennial colonial status; especially since the architects of the “Great American Constitutional Experiment” categorically refused the concept of maintaining territories as permanent colonial possessions.

Congressional leaders cannot ignore that since the US Constitution was adopted and ratified (1787-1789), the struggles for equality that have taken place in America have successfully made extensive the constitutional concept of popular government encapsulated in “We the people” to include the true sovereign of the Republic: The People.

I concur with Alfredo Castellanos Esq., a Constitutional scholar on the matter: that Congress should not ignore the evolution of our “constitutional experiment” that requires the Federal Government to guarantee the protection of our Fundamental Rights to all American citizens. I also concur with Mr. Castellanos that the Fourteenth Amendment defined and created a primary National Citizenship, intended to ensure that all Americans would be fully integrated partners of our Constitutional Republic.

The Bill of Rights and Amendments 13th (abolition of slavery) , 15th (universal suffrage) , 19th (women right to vote) and 26th (right to vote at age 18) clearly establish that “The People’ are the sovereign and that all the powers delegated to Congress, the Executive and the Judiciary emanate from “The People”.

Despite that nine heroic recipients of the Medal of Honor and countless thousands of other patriotic military sacrificed their life and limbs in every war since World War I, the Equal Protection Clause guaranteed to all Americans through the V and XIV Amendments and other fundamental Constitutional and Civil Rights have never been fully extended to Puerto Rico.

Our Nation has to awaken to the fact that both the existing laws and US Supreme Court incorrect interpretations and rulings have intentionally discriminated against the 3.5 million US Citizens that call Puerto Rico home, excluding them in the process from truly being an integral part of “We the People”.

It is unacceptable that any US Citizen of Puerto Rico be denied many fundamental Constitutional and Civil Rights”. Our fight for equal rights, justice, opportunities, progress, respect and responsibilities as Americans is a moral and constitutional plight, so that every citizen in Puerto Rico should be able to employ the full powers and measure of equality that are inherent in our National Citizenship.

The current colonial-territorial status, incorrectly named “ELA-Free Associated State” is for all practical and constitutional purposes an equivalent of an “American Apartheid State” where The People’s fundamental constitutional rights have been denied for the sole reason that those individuals reside where they do.

Our Nation must understand that the US Constitution provides the path for a resolution of this abominable injustice, which shamefully represents one of the last vestiges of American colonialism.
The fifty states of our Union are now home to no fewer than five million persons of Puerto Rican descent who equally share all the rights and obligations inherent to our citizenship. However, for our fellow citizens who remain in PR to become fully integrated on equal footing like citizens in the rest of the Nation, Congress has to accept its legal and moral obligation of resolving this unacceptable condition.

I earnestly entreat the U.S. House and Senate to empower the people of Puerto Rico with an opportunity to choose the future and status that we deserve: Statehood and Equality for the US Citizens of Puerto Rico.
*Hernan Padilla,is a former Mayor of San Juan, PR, former President of U.S. Conference of Mayors, and current President of Founders’ Council of “Igualdad”.

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