The U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico demanded statehood on Election Day, a message that resonates with over 1.2 million Puerto Ricans living in Florida. Facing a yes-or-no vote on statehood, an absolute majority of 52 percent voted “Yes”.
And yet, turning the people’s mandate into an admission process remains a challenge. Brazen partisanship stands in the way and threatens to deny equality to the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Puerto Rican statehood should be a bipartisan matter because the islands’ political status is an American problem. Over 3 million U.S. citizens, including nearly 90,000 veterans, reside in a territory devoid of basic American rights, such as the right to vote for president and equal treatment under the law.
However, Congress will not act unless stateside Americans demand action from their elected representatives. Florida has led the way in this effort. The state has a large concentration of Puerto Ricans, a population that overwhelmingly supports statehood. These Puerto Ricans have experienced the contrast between having their rights as U.S. citizens denied in Puerto Rico and fully enjoying those rights as residents of a state. That contrast, and the thought of their disenfranchised loved ones back in Puerto Rico, inspire their strong support for equality.
Florida-based Puerto Ricans are also finely attuned to how their elected representatives align themselves with the statehood cause. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have consequently taken proactive stances. Florida’s elected representatives know that, instead of overturning the Insular Cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, or amending the Constitution, admitting Puerto Rico is the simplest way of resolving the islands’ dilemma.
For the Republicans, Sen. Marco Rubio has long supported statehood, a posture that garnered him a lopsided victory during the 2016 Puerto Rico Republican primary. Sen. Rick Scott also embraced statehood, both as governor and senator. On the Democratic side, Rep. Darren Soto introduced H. Res. 1113 to call on Congress to act if voters chose statehood during the November 3 referendum. Twelve members of Florida’s delegation co-sponsored the resolution, including Rep. Stephanie Murphy, who eloquently argued for Congress to respect the will of the people of Puerto Rico.
Although Puerto Rico faces considerable work ahead to achieve statehood, the support of fellow citizens in the mainland will be critical to ensure that the statehood mandate is respected. In this regard, the people of Florida and their elected representatives have shown other states how to work together.
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Now the task at hand is to remain steadfast in that endeavor. The people of Puerto Rico are counting on you to continue leading the way.
Attorney José A. Cabrera, a U.S. Army veteran, is chair of the Puerto Rico Star Project, a nonprofit organization that advocates statehood for Puerto Rico.