The majority of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of statehood on a November 6, 2012, plebiscite putting pressure in Congress to redefine Puerto Rico’s non-incorporated territory status. (Photo: Ricardo Arduengo/AP Images)
With the Washington news cycle being dominated this week by a bipartisan comprehensive immigration framework that includes an earned path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, a group of conservative heavy hitters are trying to push another issue that affects over 3.5 million second-class U.S. citizens.
Yesterday morning at the National Press Club, the topic was Puerto Rican statehood, as the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles announced a new education campaign to convince fellow conservatives that making Puerto Rico the 51st state of the Union is the most American thing one can do. The LPCP rolled out an A list of guests, which included Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Luis Fortuño, the former Republican governor of Puerto Rico and one of the island’s most ardent pro-statehood supporters.
I spoke to Alfonso Aguilar, the LPCP’s Executive Director, after the conference. Now, I am not a pro-statehooder (read “Why Puerto Rico Will Never Become the 51st State”), but I do believe strongly that the U.S. should respect the island’s latest non-binding plebiscite. Even with my initial skepticism, as I talked more and more with Aguilar, I concluded that he was incredibly qualified to lead the conservative charge about Puerto Rico’s political status. Here are just some of his major points:
Puerto Ricans on the island are second-class U.S. citizens: “I’m passionately supportive of immigration reform, and I believe in giving a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants. As we think of giving a path to citizenship to 11 million undocumented immigrants, I think it is fitting to remember that there are 3.7 million U.S. citizens on the island that don’t have full political rights. Puerto Ricans are not asking for citizenship. What they are asking for is a path for full citizenship.”
On the criticism that Puerto Rico will just become another blue state: “There is no real evidence. We just had a Republican governor, a Republican House and Senate. Puerto Ricans are socially very conservative. Frankly it can go either way. If the Republicans were to play their cards right, it could become a reliably red state. Remember the history. Everyone thought that Alaska would be the Democratic state and Hawaii would be the Republican state. Look what happened there.”
On the loss of Puerto Rican culture and identity: “Obviously the majority of Puerto Ricans don’t speak English because we are not a state. It will naturally happen. Part of this status conundrum is to keep us in limbo so that there is no incentive for people to say, ‘I want to learn English.’ People should not be afraid: Puerto Ricans are already American patriots. “
Statehood for Puerto Rico is a bipartisan issue and yes, it is all about Florida: “What is changing the dynamic dramatically are not the voters in Puerto Rico, but the voters in Florida. Sixty-seven percent of the Puerto Rican electorate in Florida is for statehood. Obama and the Democrats understand this and they know that if they get this right, just like immigration, it is possible that Florida could become blue, and that could be it for Republicans on the national level. My message for Republicans is: ‘Look at the numbers. You want to lose Florida, too?’”
Although Aguilar downplays the cultural argument (a lot), the points he makes about the full path to citizenship and the national politics of Florida are very practical and very convincing.
I might not be for statehood, but I am for Puerto Rico for being the next “Latino” issue in Washington. One-hundred and fifteen years of being a U.S. colony and 96 years of second-class citizenship are enough. All Puerto Ricans should work together for one more binding plebiscite: statehood or independence. This status quo has gone on for way too long.
As long as I don’t have to hang with Grover Norquist, it’s cool.