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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Florida Rep. Darren Soto files bill to make Puerto Rico a state

Posted By on Thu, Mar 28, 2019 at 11:11 AM

click to enlarge U.S. Rep. Darren Soto
  • U.S. Rep. Darren Soto
U.S. Rep. Darren Soto has filed a bipartisan bill that would admit Puerto Rico into the union as the 51st state.

"It's time to end 120 years of colonialism for Puerto Ricans," Soto, D-Orlando, says in a statement. "Today, along with Jenniffer González Colón, I'm proud to introduce the first direct Puerto Rico Statehood bill to admit the island as the 51st state of the union."

Soto made the announcement in Washington D.C. with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, Democrat, and Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón, the Republican resident commissioner of Puerto Rico in the House.

The island has been a U.S. territory since 1898 and Puerto Ricans were finally granted citizenship in 1917. But the more than 3 million residents who live on the colony can't vote in presidential elections and have no representation in Congress. The Puerto Rican Admission Act of 2019 filed by Soto and González-Colón would admit Puerto Rico into the union on "equal footing" with the other states within 90 days of the president's signature.

"Puerto Rico's colonial status is not working," Soto said. "Look no further than the abysmal Hurricane María recovery efforts and the draconian PROMESA law to prove this point too well. … Puerto Ricans need their own U.S. senators and representatives to fight for the needs and hold Washington accountable."

Soto says 97 percent of Puerto Ricans overwhelmingly voted in favor of statehood during the 2017 plebiscite on Puerto Rico’s status. But only 23 percent of the island’s residents participated in the election to choose between statehood, becoming independent or maintaining its current territorial status, a historically low turnout that was likely caused by a boycott of the plebiscite from the pro-status party, Partido Popular Democrático (PPD).

Some Puerto Rican advocacy organizations have denounced the bill, with the National Puerto Rican Agenda calling it "ill-timed, ill-advised and invalid."

"At a time when thousands of Puerto Ricans continued to struggle with the losses suffered from Hurricanes Irma and María, and when the Trump administration is seemingly intent on not providing already appropriated aid to Puerto Rico so its people can live with a roof over their heads and food on their tables, HR 1965 comes as a divisive diversion from attending the serious issues that afflict our people," the organization said in a statement.

While Puerto Rico is still reeling from the catastrophic effects of María more than a year after the storm, President Donald Trump reportedly told Republican senators that Puerto Rico was getting too much hurricane relief funding compared to other states at $91 billion, an inaccurate figure according to the Washington Post because that's actually the amount of damage María caused in Puerto Rico. The Post reports that Trump told his top advisers that he doesn’t want "another single dollar going to the island." The estimated death toll adopted by the Puerto Rican government stands at 2,975 fatalities caused by María, a figure that Trump has denied despite all evidence to the contrary.

"Democracy and equality for American citizens is an issue of justice and civil rights," González-Colón, who has filed a similar bill several times, said in a statement. "As American citizens, want to have the same benefits and duties, as all American citizens have in the states."

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said that only after María did the rest of the country and the world finally see the island's reality – that more than 3 million U.S. citizens are "disenfranchised, don't have the power to vote, don't get equal resources and are treated with injustice that is just simply unacceptable in modern times."

"Puerto Rico has already determined on two occasions that we want to be a state," Rosselló says. "You're either with Puerto Rico or you're against Puerto Rico. It is time to put up or to shut up, and it is time to take action on behalf of the people of Puerto Rico."

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