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Local leaders react to “discriminatory” U.S. high court ruling


By John McPhaul

jpmcphaul@gmail.com


Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia reacted on Thursday to the determination of the United States Supreme Court that the Island can be excluded from the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, saying statehood is the only solution.


“The decision of the Supreme Court in the Vaello Madero case on the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program once again proves that the territorial status of Puerto Rico is discriminatory for American citizens on the Island and allows Congress to do what whatever you want with us. Clearly our people, particularly the most vulnerable, suffer the consequences of this unequal treatment under the American flag. The same is true of other major programs, such as Medicaid, Medicare, and nutrition assistance. Enough of this colonial status that discriminates against us and affects our quality of life. The only and the best solution is statehood,” Pierluisi said in a written statement.


The Supreme Court voted 8 to 1, with Puerto Rican Judge Sonia Sotomayor dissenting, and it was determined that the Island can be excluded from the SSI program since the equity clause of the constitution does not require the inclusion of Puerto Rico.


Meanwhile, Senate President José Luis Dalmau Santiago said the majority decision of the Supreme Court, is in U.S. Constitutional doctrine wrong.


“To conclude that the protection of the right to due process of law of the Fifth Amendment of the federal Constitution does not assist the residents of Puerto Rico and that it yields to the terms of congressional authority under the territorial clause is unheard of,” said Dalmau in a written statement. “Judge Sotomayor herself, in her correct dissent, concludes that the decision is ‘irrational and antithetical to the very nature of SSI and the equal protection of citizens guaranteed by the Constitution.’ A matter on which Puerto Ricans contribute from their income. That was the only decision consistent with American constitutionalism. Discrimination against citizens in the granting of social programs based on suspicious considerations, such as race, gender, religion, ethnicity or, as in this case, place of residence, is abhorrent. However, the majority decision keeps an important door open to achieve fair parity in SSI. It recognizes that Congress and the President, as political branches, have the authority to establish parity in the SSI of Puerto Ricans.”


“During the presidential campaign and afterward, President (Joseph) Biden has made a commitment to parity in SSI. He has also made the Democratic leadership in the House and the federal Senate. The time has come to fulfill the word pledged to Puerto Rico. Democrats in Congress and the President have an obligation to include SSI parity for Puerto Ricans in the reconciliation legislation being negotiated between Biden, Sen. Joe Manchin, and Senate Leader Chuck Shumer,” he added.


Dalmau said that last month he was in Washington fighting for this issue.


“ In the coming weeks and in view of the Democratic negotiations for the reconciliation project, I will redouble my efforts and those of the Senate to achieve these important advances for Puerto Rico. I call on Governor Pierluisi and the Resident Commissioner to unreservedly join in this vital effort for Puerto Rico,” he said.


Dalmau said that the effort of the governor “to take ideological advantage in the discussion of status over the claim of thousands of Puerto Ricans to have an additional social support is not having clear priorities.”


“We can debate status, but this is the moment to demand that the President and Congress keep their word. I will concentrate on fighting this important fight for Puerto Ricans and I demand the same from the rest of the political leadership,” said Dalmau.


Meanwhile, the president of the House of Representatives, Rafael “Tatito” Hernández Montañez, described the action of the Joe Biden administration as shameful.


“Giving equal access to the Island in the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and food assistance programs was a campaign commitment of the Biden administration. It is shameful that the leadership of the New Progressive Party (NPP) is celebrating this adverse decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in the Vaello Madero case to the detriment of our citizens and families with the greatest need. The Biden administration missed a great opportunity to demonstrate contrasts, distancing itself from the discriminatory actions of Donald Trump,” he said in a written statement.


Meanwhile, the president of the House of Representatives, Rafael “Tatito” Hernández Montañez, described the action of the Joe Biden administration as shameful.


“Giving equal access to the Island in the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and food assistance programs was a campaign commitment of the Biden administration. It is shameful that the leadership of the New Progressive Party (NPP) is celebrating this adverse decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in the Vaello Madero case to the detriment of our citizens and families with the greatest need. The Biden administration missed a great opportunity to demonstrate contrasts, distancing itself from the discriminatory actions of Donald Trump,” he said in a written statement.


For her part, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón agreed with Pierliusi that statehood was the only way to give Puerto Ricans full rights of U.S. citizenship, but she also said that the island could receive SSI rights by an act of Congress.


“I call on my colleagues in Congress to act quickly to correct this outrageous discrimination that keeps more than 300,000 of our most vulnerable in extreme poverty. There is already a way and that is to convert my project H.R.537 into law,” González Colón said in a written statement.


“The federal Supreme Court missed a historic opportunity to correct discrimination in light of the insular cases. The decision against granting SSI to Puerto Rico due to our territorial status is an unequivocal sign of discrimination and second-class citizenship that the Commonwealth gives us. Furthermore, Judge Gorsuch denounced the legal burden that the Insular Cases continue to be, stating in his concurring opinion ‘But the time has come when we must recognize that the Insular Cases rest on a rotten foundation. And it is my hope that a day will soon come when the Court can revoke them. We must follow in the footsteps of Justice Harlan and decide this question correctly. Our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico deserve no less,’” she stated.

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