Opinion | Puerto Ricans deserve better than separated and odd ones
Opinion |  Puerto Ricans deserve better than separated and odd ones

Opinion | Puerto Ricans deserve better than separated and odd ones

In a series of Supreme Court cases settled in the early 20th century known as Insular cases, jurists and legal scholars argued that Puerto Rico and other newly acquired territories were “inhabited by foreign races” that were too culturally and racially segregated to be governed by “Anglo-Saxon principles.” The Court created the category of “unincorporated territories” to justify the unequal use of constitutional rights in these areas. Congress has since relied on this distinction to justify refusing Puerto Ricans equal benefits.

The Vaello-Madero decision actually confirms the unequal use of constitutional rights. Judge Neil Gorsuch married concordant opinion to the story of Insular cases and called for them to be disregarded. He argued that they “have no basis in the Constitution and instead rely on racial stereotypes.”

It is certainly past time to abolish these racist and xenophobic precedents. But even if the Insular cases were dropped, there is no guarantee that other arguments would not be used to continue denying SSI and other rights to Puerto Ricans and residents of other unincorporated territories. What we need to address is the very concept of non-incorporation, which is little more than a justification for colonialism.

Two competing bills seeking to end Puerto Rico’s colonial status are currently locked in Congress. That Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act, introduced by Darren Soto and Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative Jennifer González-Colón, would lead to an immediate and binding yes or no vote on state. The second bill, known as Puerto Rico’s Law of Self-Determination, co-sponsored by Representatives Nydia Velázquez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Robert Menendez, would facilitate a longer process of discussion, deliberation and, most importantly, education on the issue of status opportunities. A third consensus bill is now being considered.

If passed, this will be the first time Puerto Ricans have ever had the chance to truly participate in a democratic process aimed at decolonization. Until now, we have only been presented with check boxes on symbolic ballot papers that were not bound by actual legislation.

Decolonization is not only a matter of Puerto Ricans reconciling with their political options, but also of putting an end to the silence and confusion of US imperial history. Today, most Americans know little about the details of Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States. In fact, many are not aware that the United States remains a federation of states and territories, as well as associated republics and sovereign tribal nations.

Colonialism is deeply embedded in our state institutions in ways that affect not only the decisions of Supreme Court justices, but also the day-to-day decisions made by average Puerto Ricans seeking a dignified life. Like my mother, many today are forced to make the same difficult choices – between their homeland, their friends and family ties, and the care they need and are entitled to.

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