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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Pro-statehood group keeps pushing for territorial incorporation as best path forward

Attorney Gregorio Igartúa

By The Star Staff

A group of statehood supporters is urging Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia again to drop the idea of seeking a status vote and, instead, asked Congress to approve a resolution in favor of certifying Puerto Rico as an incorporated territory.

The letter sent to Pierluisi comes after the Puerto Rico Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has been undertaking a study on the Insular Cases and the “Doctrine of the Unincorporated Territory” and its effect on the civil rights of Puerto Ricans on the island.

The insular cases are a series of U.S. Supreme Court opinions from early in the 20th century on the status of U.S. territories acquired after the Spanish-American War. The Supreme Court held that full constitutional protection of rights does not automatically extend by its own force to places under U.S. control, which means unincorporated territories such as Puerto Rico may lack some constitutional rights because they were not part of the United States.

Pro-statehood lawyer Gregorio Igartúa testified at a hearing held by the commission that the fact that Puerto Rico has not been certified as an incorporated territory has caused social, legal and political discrimination against the U.S. territory. He said the differential treatment has resulted in the territory’s bankruptcy and the loss of professionals.

Regarding the letter, whose contents were endorsed by former UPR President José Saldaña, Inter American University of Puerto Rico law professor Andrés Córdova and Héctor Ramos, prevailed upon the governor to support the territorial incorporation of the island. The letter notes that in 2019, the U.S. Conference of Mayors at its meeting in Hawaii approved a resolution to certify Puerto Rico as an incorporated territory.

They said that by all accounts, Puerto Rico is already an incorporated territory because Puerto Ricans already pay federal taxes and most federal laws already appy.

They said the status legislation currently before Congress puts into question the U.S. citizenship of Puerto Ricans obtained under the Jones Act, and is a futile exercise because it has little support.

Last year, a group of U.S. lawmakers unveiled the Puerto Rico Status Act discussion draft legislation, a consensus bill between Democrats and Republicans on how to deal with the U.S. commonwealth’s status.

If eventually passed in the U.S. House and Senate, the Puerto Rico Status Act would create and fund a process for Puerto Rico residents to participate in a binding vote to determine the island’s political relationship with the U.S.

The ballot would not include the current commonwealth status, according to the draft. Voters would instead choose between three options: statehood, sovereignty in free association with the U.S., and independence.

Under the legislation, Puerto Ricans would maintain their U.S. citizenship under all options for at least one generation. Those born after Puerto Rico becomes independent or a freely associated state will not be U.S. citizens. If Puerto Rico chooses statehood, the U.S. will begin the process of admitting it as the nation’s 51st state, the draft says. If the island chooses free association, it will be independent but share some agreed-upon functions with the U.S. government. If it chooses independence, it will be a sovereign nation.

The chances of territorial incorporation for Puerto Rico are higher than statehood, Igartúa said. He noted that federal Judge Gustavo Gelpi in the Consejo de Salud ruled that Puerto Rico was an incorporated territory, which Congress can’t deny because all of the elements for incorporation are present.

“The incorporation gives us equality in federal aid and puts us in transit toward statehood,” Igartúa said.

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