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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Puerto Rico status bill clears US House

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)

By The Star Staff

The U.S. House of Representatives in a divided vote on Thursday passed House Bill 8393, which would enable a federally endorsed vote for Puerto Rico residents to choose among statehood, sovereignty under free association or independence, but the bill is not expected to get the Senate’s nod.

The bill, titled the Puerto Rico Status Act, cleared the House in a 233-191 vote. Sixteen Republicans voted with Democrats in support of the legislation. The bill must now go to the Senate, where it is not expected to be voted on this year.

The bill would establish a nonpartisan voter education campaign that would be federally funded.

But the legislation faces unlikely odds in the Senate, where at least 60 votes are needed to send the measure to President Biden’s desk for his signature.

Republican Rep. Tom McClintock, from California’s 4th District, objected to giving statehood to Puerto Rico because of the impact it would have on other states. He described Puerto Ricans as poorly educated.

“This bill totally ignores the right of all Americans to discuss and decide how monumental and irreversible this action is,” McClintock said. “Statehood would mean that, in the next redistribution, other states would lose a total of 4 seats in the House of Representatives, to accommodate the Puerto Rican delegation. And only 20 percent of the population of Puerto Rico is fluent in English, which means we would be admitting a state whose vast majority is alienated from the national debate, which is critical in our democracy.”

“So how does this benefit America by admitting a state that is heavily in debt, poorly educated, with the poorest residents and the most jobless in the nation?” the seven-term congressman continued. “And we would not have anything more to say, because in this bill the Congress would not have anything to say on the matter if it is approved.”

The House voted on the bill after House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and a bipartisan group of lawmakers announced this week that they had struck a deal on the legislation, which had stalled in the House for months.

During the debate, Hoyer, a co-sponsor of the bill, said that for far too long the people of Puerto Rico have been excluded from the full promise of American democracy and self-determination “that our nation has always championed.”

“We owe it to Puerto Ricans to bring an end to their island’s 124-year-old status as a U.S. territory and to grant them control over their island’s political future,” he added.

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, gaveled out the vote.

“Today, for the first time in our nation’s history, the United States will acknowledge its role as a colonizing force and Puerto Rico’s status as an extended colony,” Ocasio-Cortez said on the House floor. “The Puerto Rico Status Act begins a process for Boricuas to decide their own future.”

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón highlighted the importance of the bill in order to define the political status of the island and achieve equality for Puerto Ricans.

“For the first time in history, we are considering legislation that would authorize a self-executing plebiscite on the island among non-territorial status alternatives only,” she said. “With the adoption of this bill, this chamber is recognizing and making clear that Puerto Rico’s century-old territorial status is the problem and cannot be part of the solution.”

“The territorial condition constrains the island’s ability to prosper and has relegated the island to an indefinite second-class status when compared to the 50 states,” the resident commissioner continued. “It is the main reason behind the social, economic and fiscal challenges we have faced, forcing a mass exodus of millions of Puerto Ricans to the U.S. mainland, in search for the equality that, as citizens, are bestowed upon us by the Declaration of Independence, and yet is denied to them back home. Congress has perpetuated by its inaction this dysfunctional political-economic condition — one that at its core is, as President Ronald Reagan once characterized it, ‘historically unnatural.’”

“Because we’re a territory, the people of Puerto Rico lack full voting representation in Congress and cannot vote for the president, who sends our sons and daughters to war,” González Colón said. “Because we’re a territory, the federal government can, and often does, treat us unequally under federal laws and programs. Because we’re a territory, we’re treated as second-class citizens.”

The bill has the support of the Biden administration. In a statement, the White House said that: “For far too long, the residents of Puerto Rico -- over 3 million U.S. citizens -- have been deprived of the opportunity to determine their own political future and have not received the full rights and benefits of their citizenship because they reside in a U.S. territory.”

“The Administration looks forward to working with Congress throughout the legislative process to ensure that this bill comports with our Nation’s democratic principles,” the statement said.

Rep. José Aponte Hernández, a former speaker of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, said the approval of the bill has virtually buried the current commonwealth status.

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