Puerto Rico statehood advocate posits territory’s incorporation
Lawyer and author Gregorio Igartúa considers that status more viable than annexation
SAN JUAN — Pro-statehood lawyer Gregorio Igartúa is urging pro-statehood leaders to pursue becoming an incorporated territory of the United States, contending there are very few votes for statehood.
His remarks were made as Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) said in a radio show Friday that she was working on a bill that would seek once and for all to resolve the debate over the island’s political status.
“There are a number of lawmakers, myself included, who are having discussions to see how we can responsibly and respecting the people’s right to self-determination, we can resolve this problem and Congress can accept this decision,” he said.
Igartúa said he contacted Velázquez and also wrote to Congressman Darren Soto, who together with Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González (R-Puerto Rico), is sponsoring a bill that seeks to make Puerto Rico a state.
“I suggest you consider requesting that Puerto Rico be certified an incorporated territory,” he said.
Igartúa, who has taken several cases to court seeking the granting of rights to Puerto Ricans living on the island that are akin to those afforded when in a state, says he is seeking the support of organizations for his initiative.
“That is totally unnecessary. We do not need more referendums. Puerto Rico is already a de facto incorporated territory. All he [Gov. Ricardo Rosselló] needs to do is to seek a declaration from Congress that Puerto Rico is an incorporated territory and, from there, there is no other choice but statehood,” Igartúa said.
He has published a book, “The De Facto Incorporated U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico,” in which he offers evidence that the island is already incorporated. The problem, he said, is that the lack of knowledge about the congressional integration of Puerto Rico as an incorporated territory by judges, federal officials and politicians has led to confusion and resulted in Puerto Rico being treated as an incorporated territory in some cases and unincorporated in others.
What is the difference between an incorporated and an unincorporated territory?
“An incorporated U.S. territory is a specific area under U.S. jurisdiction over which Congress has determined the U.S. Constitution is to be applied to that territory’s local government and inhabitants in its entirety,” including citizenship and trial by jury, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs. The United States has not had any incorporated territories since Hawaii and Alaska were admitted as states in 1959.
Unincorporated territories, on the other hand, can be treated differently by Congress, except for “abridging fundamental rights,” such as the right to privacy or same-sex marriage. This can be likened to the differences between Puerto Ricans residing stateside and those living on the island. While Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, they are treated differently when they reside on the island.
Igartúa says Puerto Rico has already been given gradual legal, economic, political and social integration with the United States since 1898, in effect making it an incorporated territory. In his book, he cites numerous cases he believes substantiate the assertion and provides a historical perspective since the time Puerto Rico was acquired from Spain.
For instance, in U.S. v. Mercado Flores, a 2015 U.S. First Circuit ruling that states Puerto Rico is no longer a mere unincorporated territory of the United States and is between being incorporated and being a state. Another 2015 ruling stated that Puerto Rico was a state for purposes of the Sherman Act, an antitrust law that regulates competition among enterprises. In these cases, the U.S. Justice Department required full applicability of the U.S. Constitution to Puerto Rico. The problem is that in other cases, the U.S. Justice Department sought the nonapplicability of the U.S. Constitution or the nonincorporation theory.
In the 2016 Supreme Court ruling in the Commonwealth v. Sánchez Valle case, the U.S. Justice Department opposed the constitutional applicability of the double-jeopardy clause in Puerto Rico.
“Another example of the discriminatory practice of cases related to Puerto Rico is to switch the U.S. Constitution on and off as it conveniently pleases them,” Igartúa said.
The U.S. Supreme Court adopted a new territorial qualification of nonincorporation or “territorial sovereignty in sequence.”