Scott: Yesterday, we took you to Puerto Rico where people are considered American citizens but don’t have the same rights as people who live in the continental U.S. So, what will become of the island and its residents? Well, Shelby Holliday brings us day two from Puerto Rico.
Shelby: You all agree that something needs to change?
Gabriel Gonzalez: We are a colony. We have someone always pushing us down.
Shelby: These teens are all U.S. citizens from the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, but they say they aren’t treated like other Americans.
Nicole Burgos: Right now we have, like, a secondary type of U.S. citizenship. We can’t vote for Congress, vote for the president or anything like that.
Kevin McClintock: I find it extremely unfair that a president for which we are denied the right to vote and a Congress in which we lack voting and proportional representation can reinstate a draft and send me to war as soon as tomorrow.
Shelby: The territory’s status and citizenship rights have been hotly debated for decades. Even though people in Puerto Rico don’t have to pay federal taxes, they can’t vote for president, and they don’t have an elected representative with voting rights in Washington, D.C.
Puerto Rico has been governed by the United States for more than a century. But in a vote taken last year, a majority of Puerto Ricans said they do not like the island’s current political status.
Pedro Pierluisi: That changes the dynamics of the discussion of the status of Puerto Rico forever.
Shelby: Pedro Pierluisi represents Puerto Rico in Congress. He can’t vote on House bills, but he can introduce legislation.
Pierluisi: So, Puerto Rico status.
Shelby: In response to last November’s vote, he started pushing for a new bill called the Puerto Rico Status Resolution Act.
Pierluisi: The purpose of the bill is to set forth the process for Puerto Rico to become a state of the union.
Shelby: Pierluisi says last year’s vote showed that most Puerto Ricans want the territory to become the 51st state of America. But it is up to the people there to officially decide, so his bill is calling on Congress to approve a federally authorized vote.
Pierluisi: Sooner or later, Congress will have to act because the U.S. is the most democratic nation in the world. And what’s democracy if not government by the consent of the governed?
Shelby: Pierluisi hopes Puerto Rico can follow in the footsteps of Hawaii and Alaska, two former U.S. territories that became states. But it is not as simple as taking a vote. Congress would have to pass a law admitting Puerto Rico to the union, which experts say is unlikely. And if Puerto Rico became a state, it would cost the U.S. billions of dollars a year in federal programs. Furthermore, uniting Puerto Ricans would be a challenge. Even though most are demanding change, they have divided ideas about the future. Some think the island should be its own country.
So, Gabriel, you want independence? Why?
Gabriel: I want to be free of having a country telling us what to do. It’s also for us to grow economically.
Shelby: Others say Puerto Rico should become a state.
Kevin: The vast majority of us have grown up, and our parents have grown up, being part of the United States, and we deserve to be part of the United States with our full citizenship rights.
Shelby: And some want free association, which would give Puerto Rico sovereignty but keep a relationship with the U.S.
Nicole, you want a better version of the status quo?
Nicole: I do not think that being a state would really help us, but being independent would take such a long time that I’m afraid we might lose sight of what we were searching for. And I think this is a good compromise.
Shelby: So, what will the future of Puerto Rico look like? If the status resolution is passed, voters will have a say.
Pierluisi: Congress has to be straightforward with Puerto Rico. Statehood is one option, and Congress can lay it out like I have proposed. This is the most democratic nation in the world. It should lead by example.
Shelby: Shelby Holliday, Channel One News.
Scott: The proposed bill for Puerto Rico statehood is on hold and awaiting a hearing in the House of Representatives. We will keep you posted on its progress in Congress.