Lawmakers from the United States House of Representatives are introducing a bill which would make Puerto Rico the 51st state despite recent rifts between the island's officials and President Donald Trump especially regarding relief aid after 2017's Hurricane Maria.
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Supporters of the bill believe statehood is the first step in granting Puerto Ricans the same voting and economic rights as U.S. citizens living on the mainland. The island continues to struggle with an approximately 13-year economic recession, which was only reinforced by the devastating hurricane. Despite having a poverty rate three times as high as the U.S. average, island residents receive fewer benefits, such as food stamps and Medicaid, than mainland states.
Representative Darren Soto is introducing the bill, which is also backed by Puerto Rico's Governor Ricardo Rossello. The bill would be the first to avoid statehood referendums or setting prerequisite conditions to be met before admitting Puerto Rico as a state, and the change would automatically take effect 90 days after enactment.
Soto argues that "the island's colonial status is not working" due to the U.S. government's lack of commitment to resolving the island's debt crisis that it helped create. This is largely in part due to the lack of representation for the island in Congress, which Puerto Ricans are not granted the right to vote for.
The lack of representation has been made even more apparent by the government's response to Hurricane Maria, according to Rossello.
Members from both parties have shown overwhelming support for Puerto Rico's statehood.
Notable figures include presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, and Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott. Soto points out that the bill is also backed by Representative Don Young, who used to serve as chairman for the House Natural Resources Committee tasked with oversight of Puerto Rico.
President Donald Trump has expressed to GOP senators his frustration with the island receiving 'too much money' that he believes should be redirected to the United States. Rosello's response to Trump is to stop directing "insults and demeaning mischaracterizations" towards the island.
On the island, the 3.3 million residents are debating whether statehood or independence would better suit the needs of the island. Former senator Luis Nieves, and member of Puerto Rico's pro-independence party argues that “We, the Puerto Rican people, have our own national identity. We do not consider ourselves ‘Americans,’ since we have our own culture, traditions, and language,” and that the majority of the island desires independence.