Last Tuesday, Nov. 6, amidst Barack Obama's reelection and the countless House and Senate races going on, there was a referendum taking place on the island of Puerto Rico. In a non-binding vote, 53 percent of Puerto Ricans voted against the current status as a Commonwealth of the United States, and in a second question 65 percent voted in favor of statehood.
Under the Constitution, Congress has the power to admit new states into the Union. With Puerto Rico meeting the qualifications for statehood under Article IV, plus the will of the people in favor, Congress should approve Puerto Rico as a state without delay.
Like the states, Puerto Rico has a republican form of government, is under the jurisdiction of the Constitution, and its citizens are legally U.S. citizens. However, they cannot vote for president in the general election and only have a nonvoting delegate in Congress. This is unjust because Puerto Ricans have been drafted into our armed forces, and have given up their lives in service of our country. The transition from Commonwealth to state would be seamless (apart from adding an extra star on Old Glory), and Puerto Ricans will have the ability to be represented fairly in government and have the same voting rights as other Americans.
However, it is important to note that if Puerto Rico is added to the Union, it would automatically become the poorest state by a wide margin. While tax exemptions are frequently given to corporations to set up business on the island, the Puerto Rican government has not allowed the U.S. minimum wage law to take effect on the island in order to provide a further incentive to businesses, perpetuating poverty and not providing the same economic opportunity that exists in the states. These policies are vestiges of the colonial and imperial influence the U.S. has historically exerted on the island.
Ultimately, the Puerto Rican people have spoken, and Congress would send a strong, unified message by approving their statehood request and adhering to the dual principles of self-determination and popular sovereignty. However, the economic problems on the island need to be addressed and rectified in order for Puerto Rico to thrive and for Puerto Ricans to shed their second-class status as U.S. citizens.