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Pedro Pierlusi. Photo: Alejandro Granadillo/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Pedro Pierlusi. Photo: Alejandro Granadillo/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Governor Pedro Pierluisi outlines Puerto Rico’s path to U.S. statehood

In a recent appearance on Axios on HBO, the new governor said he expects a bill on statehood to go before Congress in the middle of March.

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Pedro Pierluisi was sworn in as Puerto Rico’s 12th elected governor on Saturday, Feb. 13, and addressed a socially-distanced crowd of a few hundred guests, pledging to provide a fresh start for the island following years of social and political turbulence, and to restore trust in the government. 

Puerto Ricans have endured twin hurricanes, earthquakes, a debt crisis, corruption scandals, and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but Pierluisi is promising to usher in better days. 

A big part of that is a promise to push for Puerto Rican U.S. statehood.

The new governor told Axios on HBO that “Congress is morally obligated to respond” to the island’s recent vote in support of statehood, and expects the House to introduce a bill by the middle of March. 

 

The prospect of statehood has been explored for years, but advocates say it has become more likely now that Democrats are in control of the House, Senate and White House, and President Biden has publicly voiced his support for the move. 

The island has held six separate non-binding referendums on its status, including becoming a U.S. state, since 1967, but legislation has yet to occur. Residents most recently voted in favor of statehood last November.

Both of Pierluisi’s predecessors, Wanda Vázquez and Ricardo Rosselló, were also in support of statehood. 

"The U.S. could be expanding by admitting Puerto Rico into the union,” he said. “It would be telling the world that it is embracing diversity because this would be a truly, completely Hispanic state."

Pierluisi told Axios that although the vote for statehood was narrow (52% support to 47% against), he feels it is the best way for Puerto Ricans to receive equal treatment as American citizens. 

He argued that statehood for Puerto Rico would be a “game changer” in securing equal treatment in key federal programs such as Medicaid and the Earned Income Tax Credit, which aren’t currently available to citizens on the island. 

Puerto Ricans also don’t have any representatives in Congress with full voting power, and have no say in who becomes U.S president. 

“Statehood is not a panacea. Of course we have to do better. But there’s no question that having two senators and four representatives in Congress batting for us when needed would make a 

difference,” Pierluisi said. 

Not all Democrats are in favor of statehood, though. 

Two Puerto Rican representatives of New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nydia Velázquez, advocate instead for independence and self-determination, as proposed in a bill the two put forth last August.

The bill has also picked up support in Philadelphia from its city council, led by María Quiñones-Sánchez.

The Puerto Rican Self-Determination Act of 2020 proposed creating a “status convention” made up of delegates elected by Puerto Rican voters that would come up with a long-term solution for the island’s territorial status, whether it be statehood, independence, a free association or any other options besides the current arrangement. 

“The key is that this framework would be developed by Puerto Ricans and for Puerto Ricans, not dictated to them like so many previous policies,” Ocasio-Cortez and Velázquez wrote. 

When asked about this bill in the Axios interview, Pierluisi stated that he will still be pushing towards statehood and would love to have the support of Ocasio-Cortez. 

“I don’t rule out convincing her to join me in the way that I’m approaching this,” he said. 

On the other side, some Republicans argue that they believe all of Puerto Rico’s representatives in Congress would be Democrats if statehood is achieved. Pierluisi insists that the island would become a swing state with a “mixed” congressional delegation, though it “would probably lean Democratic.” 

At the same time that advocates for Puerto Rico’s statehood believe that the present is the best possible time to achieve this goal, many are also pushing for the District of Columbia to be admitted as a state. 

Pierluisi said he doesn’t want to compete with this push, and is also in support of D.C. becoming a state. 

“So I just want the star [on the American flag]. I don’t care about the number. So long as it happens and it happens soon, I’ll be more than pleased,” he said. 

During his campaign for president, Biden promised to work with Puerto Rican officials who support “each of the status options” for the island’s political future.

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