Monday, October 18, 2021

Shadow Delegation Stresses Support for Statehood Admission Act

By on March 3, 2021

Former Ponce Mayor María “Mayita” Meléndez speaks about Puerto Rico’s shadow delegation to Congress (Courtesy)

Say they Will Speak as a Team so Message is Heard ‘Loud and Clear’

SAN JUAN — A day after the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, the former mayor of Ponce, María “Mayita” Meléndez, and Guaynabo Municipal Legislature Majority Leader Roberto Lefranc Fortuño, both of whom aspire to become special delegates to the U.S. Congress “in order to petition statehood for Puerto Rico,” held a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and vowed to “work hard” to ensure the island becomes the 51st state. 

“We support the bill that our resident commissioner, Jenniffer González, has just introduced,” Meléndez said in a virtual press conference. “It’s a bipartisan, multisector bill…we know that Jenniffer has been working really hard here and we came to support her as well. We are a delegation from Puerto Rico, we are supposed to be four members in the House of Representatives, and two members in the Senate.”

Meléndez said the legislation is an important step forward in “our claim for full civil rights and equality for the American citizens in Puerto Rico.”

She further noted that the bill, introduced by González and Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL) and cosponsored by 49 other members, comes as in response to the majority who voted for the island to be annexed as a state.

“Together and under the leadership of González and Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, we will form an excellent delegation, as a team, in the fight for our aspiration,” she said, adding, “we believe in statehood…we believe that we deserve for our rights to be respected.”

For his part, Lefranc said that their “job here as a shadow delegation is to make sure that the voice of the people of Puerto Rico, and the will of self-determination is heard loud and clear. They already voted; people in Puerto Rico want statehood and we need to come here to Congress to make sure that we support congresswoman González’s effort in making sure that we can convert Puerto Rico into a state of the nation.”

The Act to Create the Puerto Rico Congressional Delegation (Act 167 of 2020) was signed in December to create the rules to hold a vote in which two special delegates will be elected to work with the U.S. Senate and four special delegates for the U.S. House. They “will represent Puerto Rico before Congress to demand that the electoral mandate favoring statehood be respected and to proceed with the admission of Puerto Rico as a state of the United States,” Act 167 reads.

Pierluisi has defended the creation of the delegation to advocate for Puerto Ricans who support statehood. To that end, the delegation will work with the resident commissioner.

“We need six additional people to advocate for equality for every American citizen in Puerto Rico,” Pierluisi said last month. “And there is no requirement that a territory has to be an incorporated territory before it is a state, and we who want equality, we want it to be complete, not halfway.”

Asked by reporters what their salaries will be, Meléndez and Lefranc said the matter had yet to be discussed.

“The people will vote for the best candidates to represent them in Washington, D.C.,” Lefranc told Caribbean Business. “To be able to take that voice together with the resident commissioner.” 

Once elected, the group will conduct its administrative work out of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration office, while its lobbying efforts will be carried out in Congress, Lefranc added.

Soto and González said the introduction of the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act came Tuesday, March 2, on the 104th anniversary of Puerto Ricans being granted American citizenship. Soto pointed out that on Nov. 3, Puerto Rico held a referendum during the island’s general elections and 52 percent of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of statehood. 

“The bill is a direct response to the third consecutive mandate for statehood, as democratically expressed by voters on the Island.  Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) is leading similar efforts in the U.S. Senate and will shortly introduce a companion bill,” a release issued by Soto’s office reads.

“Last November, Americans in Puerto Rico reached a clear consensus: their destiny lies with statehood. Now, the moment to finally admit Puerto Rico as a state of our Union is upon us. Our historic legislation will finally end over 120 years of colonialism and provide full rights and representation to more than 3.2 million Americans. Back-to-back hurricanes, earthquakes and now the COVID-19 pandemic have proven that the Island’s colonial status is simply not working. Our quest for statehood is about respecting democracy and equality in Puerto Rico. We look forward to working with President Biden and congressional leaders from both parties and chambers to advance and pass the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act. Together we will forge a new chapter in our nation’s history when Puerto Rico becomes a full and equal member of the United States,” Soto said.

“The only way to achieve constitutional citizenship for the people of Puerto Rico is by admitting the territory as a State of Union. Although Puerto Rico is fully integrated into the nation’s economic system, it is foreign for tax purposes, not incorporated for tariff purposes, and receives unequal treatment under critical programs like Medicaid and Medicare. There is only one way to change this, and it is through Puerto Rico’s admission as a State. This bill precisely seeks that the transition to statehood as the people of Puerto Rico requested three consecutive times at the ballot box,” González was quoted as saying. 

“Never has a U.S. territory had to wait longer than Puerto Rico before it is granted independence or admitted as a state. Puerto Ricans have voted three times in the past 8 years to become a full and equal member of the American family.  We have earned the right to be heard and to become equal citizens and we in Congress- well, at least those of you who can vote, since I am not allowed to do so- should act quickly to implement our democratically expressed aspiration. I challenge you, my dear colleagues, to be on the right side of history and rise to the occasion, unlike in previous Congresses, and resolve this unfinished business of American democracy. The future of more than 3 million U.S. citizens is in your hands,” González added. 

On Tuesday, an ad was published in the New York Times supporting a bill by Reps. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) and Alexandra Ocasio (D-NY), the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act. 

“If you’re only listening to the governor of Puerto Rico, you’re not even getting half the story,” the ad reads, urging readers to visit https://letsendcolonialismtogether.com.

The bill requires the president of the United States to notify the governor of Puerto Rico once the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act is enacted. Within 30 days of being notified of the act’s enactment, the bill further requires that the Governor issue a proclamation for the election of Puerto Rico’s senators and representatives in Congress.

Specifically, voters in Puerto Rico will be asked the following question: “Shall Puerto Rico immediately be admitted into the Union as a State, in accordance with terms prescribed in the Act of Congress approved on [date]?: Yes _____ No _____.” 

“A similar question was posed to voters in Alaska and Hawaii following the enactment of their respective admission acts,” the release points out.

Should a majority of the votes cast in the ratification election approve of statehood, the president of the United States will be required to issue a proclamation declaring the certification of results for statehood and the date upon which Puerto Rico will be admitted as a State, which must occur no later than 12 months after the results have been certified. 

Should a majority of the votes cast in the ratification election reject statehood, the entire Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act shall cease to be effective and Puerto Rico will elect its congressional delegation.

The law also requires the governor to call an election for Puerto Rico’s new representatives and senators in Congress. 

“Upon Puerto Rico’s admission as a state, all federal laws and local laws of Puerto Rico that are not in conflict with the bill proposal shall continue in full force upon admission. All individuals holding legislative, executive and judicial offices in Puerto Rico shall continue to hold their respective offices at the time of admission. All contracts, obligations, liabilities, debts and claims of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and its instrumentalities shall continue in full force and effect as the contracts, obligations, liabilities, debts and claims of the State of Puerto Rico and its instrumentalities upon admission.

“The State of Puerto Rico and its political subdivisions shall retain title to all lands and properties over which the territory and its subdivisions hold title at the time of admission. The United States shall also retain title to all property over which it holds title in Puerto Rico at the time of admission,” the release added.

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