Nelson Quiñones, The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.), August 15, 2006
Puerto Rico is known as the trampoline of the Caribbean. That’s because people from Caribbean and Latin American nations use the island as an entry point to the United States. Puerto Rico’s location is ideal for nearby residents to get to it on a small boat. The distance between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic is about 80 miles of rough sea.
From 1995 to 1997, the U.S. Coast Guard conducted an operation called “Able Response” and caught more than 9,500 Dominican immigrants. So far this year, the Coast Guard reported 6,796 illegal immigrants intercepted at sea. From that total, 2,683 were from the Dominican Republic and another 2,310 were from Cuba. In light of Cuban President Fidel Castro’s failing health, the U.S. Coast Guard may see an increase in people planning to leave that country.
What entices illegal entry to the island is Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. This political status allows Puerto Ricans to travel to and from the mainland, which is their country, without visas or passports. In a little over three hours, an illegal Latino immigrant can enter the United States from Puerto Rico’s Luiz Munoz Marin International Airport. At least prior to Homeland Security, if stopped at the airport by U.S. Customs, all an immigrant needed to say was that one of his parents is Puerto Rican or that he is married to a Puerto Rican. Or, he could say, “I am Boricua, Puerto Rican.” Any of these answers equates to U.S. citizenship, but if they aren’t true, illegal immigration has begun.
An illegal immigrant who survives the treacherous sea voyage can get a Puerto Rican driver’s license. He walks into the airport, purchases a plane ticket, shows his license and leaves his luggage for inspection. Again, illegal access to the mainland has begun.
Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli was right to point out that “when one enters the United States illegally he automatically must engage in additional criminal acts and fraudulent conduct in order to maintain an existence.” Once an illegal Latino immigrant is off the plane in Newark, or any airport, the illegal entry to Puerto Rico continues, further exploiting the Puerto Rican culture. If, when engaging in any unlawful activity an illegal Latino immigrant presents himself as a Puerto Rican, his mis-identity goes into medical records, school files and worse, into the criminal justice system.
These documents then are used in statistical studies by which the Puerto Rican culture is assessed. Vilified by the Anglo media and laughed at by fellow Hispanics, the Puerto Rican community has been the recipient of negative press because many Latinos “pass” as Puerto Ricans.
This is not to say that the culture is crime-free in its own right, but it is important to note that there have been many years of underserved stereotypes against the Puerto Rican culture. Crimes committed by illegal Latino immigrants on the mainland are a mixture of Latino ethnic groups. Yet, as referred to in a recent Morning Call story about crime, the “porta rickans” take the blame.
In the states, Puerto Ricans have remained silent to this nationality identity theft. Who wants to be called traitor, racist, and even anti-Latino? “Vale la pena?” Is it worth it?
There are issues that are beyond name-calling. Stealing the Puerto Rican identity to enter the mainland is one of them. Perhaps some might think I am wrong. But, I am defending the identity of the country that gave me birth.