The case for Puerto Rican statehood

Nathan Jackson, Assistant Opinion Editor

The last time a state was entered into the Union was Hawai’i, all the way back in 1959. While there have been more recent pushes for statehood, some more successful than others (looking at you South Georgia and Lincoln), the most recent one has arguably the most support: Puerto Rico.
In 2016, Puerto Rico passed a referendum (a kind of non-binding vote) to become the 51st state of the US. It passed by a wide margin, but the next battle lies with a US government that has been consistently against the notion (thinking that because not all Puerto Ricans are fully for statehood, it should remain a territory). However, statehood would be for the best and would raise the legal status of Puerto Rican citizens to be equal to the rest of the US.
Puerto Rico is the largest and most populous territory the US owns. With over three million people and 3,515 square miles, Puerto Rico is more than just a “small island”. When it asks to become a state, we should all listen.
To understand why Puerto Rico should become a state, we need to start with its status within the US. Currently, Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States, meaning that it is controlled by the US and most of the Constitution and some federal laws apply. While Puerto Ricans have most rights protected by the Constitution, certain ones like voting for president and sending voting representatives to Congress do not apply. However, they do not have to pay federal income tax (but do pay other federal taxes). This is quite literally taxation without representation.
But Puerto Ricans need to decide if statehood is the best course of action. Oh wait, they already did. A 2017 referendum showed that 97 percent of the country voted for statehood (compared to independence and current status). However, only 23 percent of the total population voted, partially due to a boycott led by the pro-territorial Partido Popular Democrático (Popular Democratic Party). Yet, other opinion polls show that, at the very least, 52 percent desire statehood. Congress needs to listen to the people and give them what they voted for.
So why statehood? Well, after the devastation of Hurricane Maria and declaring bankruptcy, Puerto Rico could use some expanded access to federal funds and programs that could help the economy and the island rebuild. In addition, they’d gain access to bankruptcy protections that states are granted. They would be able to actually vote for president and send representatives to Congress who could vote on laws. Becoming a state would mean that Puerto Ricans could gain full access to Social Security Medicare benefits that they currently lack (despite paying three billion for the programs). According to the Government Accountability Office, statehood could minimize business and legal risks, which means more companies will invest in the island.
Right now, Puerto Rico is in the middle of both a humanitarian and economic crisis. Both could be reduced (or even resolved) by giving Puerto Rico statehood. The benefits don’t only outweigh the costs, they blow them out of the water. And if Puerto Rico remains an unincorporated territory, its citizens will remain second-class compared to us in the states.