The State of Puerto Rican Statehood

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

For a really engaging lesson on all the various non-state parts of the United States, check out this video a reader flagged for Vann’s latest piece on Puerto Rico’s primary, which Rubio won yesterday in a huge landslide (the territory, as Vann noted in another piece, “has more Republican delegates than Vermont and more Democratic delegates than four of the states that voted on Super Tuesday”):

The reader added:

Merge Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and any other American islands that are in the Caribbean into the state of “Puerto Rico & the Virgin Islands.” While you’re at it, merge Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and any other American islands in that part of the Pacific into the state of Mariana. Problem solved.

It’s not that simple, of course. In the case of Puerto Rico, here’s a quick overview of the statehood situation: In December 2012, Puerto Rico’s legislature requested that the U.S. Congress and Obama act on the results of a recent referendum in which 54 percent of Puerto Ricans rejected territorial status and 61 percent chose statehood from the alternatives. (Turnout was 80 percent.) In 2014, resolutions were introduced in the House and Senate to hold a yes-or-no referendum among Puerto Ricans, with a “yes” majority compelling Obama to submit legislation enacting statehood, but both resolutions died in committee. There’s another referendum expected this year, funded by the U.S. government, but it’s not scheduled yet. So things are pretty much in limbo.

Gillian, back in November, explained why the statehood question matters more than ever:

Earlier this year, the Government Development Bank reported that Puerto Rico’s economy was in much worse shape than previously thought. Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla then announced that there was no way the country could pay its $72 billion of debt. Because of its in-between status, Puerto Rico’s agencies and cities are left without the ability to file Chapter 9 bankruptcy (entire states can’t file for bankruptcy), a strategy that has saved cities like Detroit from complete default and ensuing economic meltdown in recent years. ...

In addition to the ability to file for bankruptcy, many supporters hope that statehood could mean a significant boost for the island’s economy, which struggles with rampant unemployment and poverty. Puerto Rico has been steadily losing residents for years, as they move to the mainland in search of work and better opportunities. Even as the economy has continued shrinking, debt has grown, as the island borrowed heavily to finance everything from pensions to government services.

I was curious: Where does Trump stand on statehood? The gist from his campaign statement:

There are 3.7 million American citizens living in Puerto Rico. As citizens, they should be entitled to determine for themselves their political status.

Here’s some added perspective from the Puerto Rico Report:

The Trump statement explicitly notes that statehood is an option that should be considered for Puerto Rico. Trump, however, does not go as far as former Presidents, such as Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford, in proactively calling for statehood, nor does he match the ambition of some of his current competitors, such as Jeb Bush and Ben Carson, in calling for Puerto Rico statehood. Former Presidential candidate and Sen. Bob Dole strongly endorsed a vote on statehood in Puerto Rico. Sen. Marco Rubio has also endorsed a resolution of Puerto Rico’s current unequal treatment, and he has called in particular an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit to low income workers in Puerto Rico.

If you’re Puerto Rican and have any strong views on the statehood question, let us know.