Puerto Rico’s Governor, US Senators Advocate for Puerto Rico Status Act

By: Rachel Knapp 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – It’s been years since Puerto Ricans have voted for statehood. Since then, the Governor, the Resident Commissioner and others have been pushing congress to make the voters’ wish a reality. This week on Capital Hill, there’s an additional push for Puerto Rico. 

“I know our quest will not end until we have equality for the American citizens residing in Puerto Rico,” said Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi.  

Pierluisi and other representatives of the island are on The Hill this week. They’re meeting with Senators and pushing for bipartisan support for the Puerto Rico Status Act.  

“It would allow the citizens of Puerto Rico to choose among three non-territorial, non- colonial options,” said Pierluisi. “Statehood, independence and free association. And commits congress to implement the will of the majority.” 

A similar bill passed the House two years ago. Senator Martin Heinrich (D- NM) said the bill is about equality.   

“This is about American citizens being treated with the same level of rights and dignity no matter where they live,” said Sen. Heinrich.  

“We’re proud American citizens and yet we don’t vote for the president of our nation,” said Pierluisi. “We’re proud American citizens and we have no voting representation in the congress of our nation. It’s almost un-democratic. By the same token, we do not have access to key federal programs for the needy in Puerto Rico, like disabled Puerto Ricans, elderly, low-income elderly Puerto Ricans who do not get the benefits of the supplemental security- SSI programs supplemental security programs. That makes no sense. Nutrition assistance is not the same in Puerto Rico as the mainland it also makes no sense. The SNAP program works all over America except in Puerto Rico and American Samoa.” 

This is not the first time the Governor has advocated for this kind of legislation on The Hill. We asked him if he is frustrated by the slow process.  

“Not at all,” responded Pierluisi. “This is a quest. It is a long standing quest already. When you look at how long it took Hawaii to become a state, Alaska to become a state, for New Mexico, you realize this doesn’t happen overnight.” 

The bill currently has the support of roughly 25 Senators including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D- NY). The Senator said he has always supported Puerto Rican’s right to self-determination.  

Governor Pierluisi said the next steps he hopes for is a hearing in the Senate on this issue. Senator Heinrich said he’s hoping to get the ball rolling.  

“Those conversations are ongoing, I’m optimistic,” said Sen. Heinrich. “I’m not gonna go into details but I think this is an issue that continues to gain attention from the entire Senate and I’m optimistic we will get there.” 

Governor Pierluisi believes it’s important to discuss the merits of this bill in a public hearing. He hopes it will educate members about Puerto Rico’s status and their future.  

“The question is not whether, the question is when Puerto Rico will become a state of the union,” said Pierluisi. “I cannot tell you exactly when but we will keep up the fight.”