State Rep. Bob Cortes has introduced a measure that would urge Congress to take steps to expand citizenship rights for people of Puerto Rico and improve the commonwealth’s opportunity for statehood, without actually dealing directly with the statehood issue.

House Memorial 147 calls on Congress to address inequalities Puerto Rico and its residents face that date to a 1922 Supreme Court ruling that put the island and its people on a different track than any of the previous American territories that became states.

Cortes, an Altamonte Springs Republican with Puerto Rican heritage, said the approach is novel, not something he’s seen proposed anywhere else. It aims to push for incorporated territory status for Puerto Rico, something granted as a precursor to potential statehood to Hawaii, Alaska and all other states added to the union since the original 13 colonies formed the United States.

Puerto Rico was never granted status as an incorporated territory of the United States in part because of ramifications of the 1922 Supreme Court decision in Balzac vs. Puerto Rico, providing for a unique relationship between the federal government and the territory of Puerto Rico and its residents, he said.

And that relationship fosters inequality, Cortes argued, because Puerto Rico residents – including those who might have been born and raised stateside as full American citizens who then moved to live on the island – receive back limited federal benefits even though they pay full payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicaid, and in some cases federal income taxes. And the lack of status as an incorporated territory means the island does not have the necessary pre-statehood government institutions that territories such as Hawaii, Alaska, and Louisiana established before applying for statehood.

It’s part of the reason, he argued, that Puerto Ricans are flooding into Florida as part of a mass migration, seeking not just economic opportunity but full citizenship-status benefits they can be granted simply by boarding a plane out of San Juan.

“The whole key here is to straighten out that unequal citizenship system,” Cortes said.

He said he’s talking to state Democratic state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez about sponsoring a similar measure in the Florida Senate.

“This is something different, innovative,” Cortes said. “This is not something people are aware of. People will say, ‘he’s advocating for statehood for Puerto Rico.’ Yeah, I’m probably advocating for statehood. That should be a decision of the people. But before you get there, certain things need to be done. This is not a direct call for statehood.”

Two weeks ago Cortes and fellow state Reps. Rene Plasencia of Orlando, and David Santiago of Deltona traveled to Puerto Rico to meet with government officials to foster closer ties between the state of Florida and the commonwealth. However, Cortes said that while he gathered information during that trip, his determination to pursue this measure predated that visit.

 

About The Author

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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3 Responses

  1. Dennis Freytes

    Hey Scott–please, know that under the US Constitution Puerto Rico is a US Territory–under the federally undemocratic will of the US Congress, per the Terrestrial Clause. Puerto Rico’s Status, again, is a Us Territory; not Commonwealth or ELA-Free Associated State. These terms are not found in our US Constitution, but, are political distorted Terms to confuse or fool People as to the true Status… Remember the US Congress is not above the US Constitution to create a new Status… But, they have named the Government of Puerto Rico as Commonwealth… Please, report accurately the Status of the US territory of Puerto Rico. Please, let me know if you want the researched FACTS; not political distortion. Besides, the Federal Government discriminates against Puerto Ricans since 1898! The 1900- Foraker Act and the Insular Cases (1901–Downs vs Bidwell; 1922-Balzac; and others permit the US Congress to discriminate in applying the US Constitution to Puerto Rico; treat Puerto Rico differently than other Territories before it…. If you want the truth based on facts; not political distortion, generalizations, or speculations…let me know. THANKS! Dennis

    Reply
  2. Dennis Freytes

    Rep. Bob Cortes, Rep. Rene Plasencia, Rep. Santiago, and others do GREAT; are fighters for a just cause–Equal Rights for all US Citizens–including Puerto Ricans; are Patriots of True Grit! The 2d Class US Citizens in Puerto Rico CAN’T vote for their US President-Head of State; nor have just representation in the US Congress ; nor parity in Federal Laws…; nor full earned benefits…; nor have a permanent US Citizenship (no matter where they reside (per US Insular Cases; Presidential, Congressional, and other Reports)… Puerto Ricans have voted twice for Statehood (2012; 2017)…. The Federal Government-US Congress should do right! Puerto Rican EQUALITY+JUSTICE=STATEHOOD with DIGNITY! With truth, reason, courage, and Civic Action–WE WILL OVERCOME!

    Reply
  3. Dennis Freytes

    Hey Scott–please, know that under the US Constitution Puerto Rico is a US Territory–under the federally undemocratic will of the US Congress, per the Territorial Clause. Puerto Rico’s Status, again, is a US Territory; not Commonwealth or ELA-Free Associated State. These terms are not found in our US Constitution, but, are political distorted Terms to confuse or fool People as to the true Status… Remember the US Congress is not above the US Constitution to create a new Status… But, they have named the Government of Puerto Rico as Commonwealth… Please, report accurately the Status of the US Territory of Puerto Rico. Please, let me know if you want the researched FACTS; not political distortion. Besides, the Federal Government discriminates against Puerto Ricans since 1898! The 1900- Foraker Act and the Insular Cases (1901–Downs vs Bidwell; 1922-Balzac; and others) permit the US Congress to discriminate in applying the US Constitution to Puerto Rico; treat Puerto Rico differently than other Territories before it…. If you want the truth based on facts; not political distortion, generalizations, or speculations…let me know. THANKS! Dennis

    Reply

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