• The Star Staff

Pro-statehood attorney: Puerto Rico could be subject to an oversight board as a state

By The Star Staff

Even if Puerto Rico were to become a state, it would still be subjected to the terms of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act and an oversight board because of the United States Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, under Article VI, which establishes that the federal constitution, and federal law generally, take precedence over state laws, and even state constitutions.

“People think that we have the board because we are a colony but it is actually the federal government intervening because of a lack of fiscal controls,” pro-statehood lawyer Gregorio Igartúa said, noting that other U.S. jurisdictions have had fiscal boards imposed on them.

The lawyer spoke with the STAR amid his frustration that “the same people” will be talking in Wednesday’s hearing on status bills.

Igartúa sent a written testimony in opposition to the proposed Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act, which he said is not constitutionally viable, and to support the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act.

“It is the only political alternative that fits in the U.S. constitutional framework, and it is 122 years overdue,” he said. “As you know, Puerto Rico has been a part of the United States since 1898. For 122 years we have been under the U.S. government’s discriminatory practice of being denied the right to vote in federal elections, and of government without the consent of the governed.”

The House Committee on Natural Resources has expressed interest in pursuing congressional action on the issue of the political status of Puerto Rico. Igartúa said the most viable alternative is for Puerto Rico to be certified as an incorporated territory first, which de facto it is, on the way to becoming a state. Puerto Rico is currently an unincorporated territory. Under federal law, an unincorporated territory is an area controlled by the U.S. federal government that is not “incorporated” for the purposes of United States constitutional law. In unincorporated territories, the U.S. Constitution applies only partially.

Igartúa said Puerto Rico has been virtually assimilated into the United States.

“Notwithstanding incorporation is not permanent, therefore Congress should simultaneously resolve to move Puerto Rico in transit to statehood at a definite date. Certification of incorporation would make the U.S. Constitution fully applicable, and would give us parity with federal funds as if Puerto Rico were a state. We qualify for incorporation by having been assimilated more than any other U.S. territory before becoming a state,” he said. “Although there may be conflicting views of what the political relation of Puerto Rico to the United States is, due to the reality that Puerto Rico is still not a state, Congress has assimilated the island gradually since 1898 into a federalist relationship to be like a de facto incorporated territory.”

Rather than holding more hearings on what Puerto Rico could hypothetically be, Igartúa said the reality is that Puerto Ricans do not want to live in an independent country and a majority voted in favor of statehood in a referendum.

“Many are confused by the daily practice of uncertainty brought by the questioning about what our rights are as American citizens, or could be,” he said. “Consider within this context the ‘Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act’ proposed for American citizens after 122 years under our American flag. Were African-Americans subjected, or should they be subjected, to hearings on whether they would like to be slaves again, or be moved to a country in Africa?

Should Mexican Americans be asked whether they would like to renounce their American citizenship … and be moved back to Mexico, or should their American citizenship status be questioned, as your committee is doing with us in Puerto Rico in 2021? Consider it constitutionally viable only to start holding hearings on how the American citizens residing in Puerto Rico can achieve to have equal rights and government by the consent of the governed.”