Within the next few months Congress is likely to vote on a bill that would make Puerto Rico our 51st state. If it passes, the United States will be importing AIDS, crime, poverty and other Third-World problems. Four million Spanish-speakers who don’t even consider themselves Americans, would gain political representation at the expense of current citizens. Astonishingly, Republicans and Democrats alike support this bill.
Citizens by Law
Although Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens by law, the island is not a state but a commonwealth. It is closely associated with the United States but is not a permanent part of the Union, and it does not have the same rights and responsibilities as a state.
In 1898, during the Spanish-American War, American forces occupied Puerto Rico after an invasion that met only token Spanish resistance and was generally welcomed by Puerto Ricans. After the war, Spain ceded the island to the United States, which ruled it as a territory with an appointed governor. In 1952, Congress made it a self-governing commonwealth on terms that were overwhelmingly approved by Puerto Ricans in a referendum.
As citizens of a commonwealth, Puerto Ricans pay no U.S. income taxes and do not vote in U.S. elections (though they do send a “resident commissioner” to Congress, who votes only in committee). They are eligible for some handout programs like food stamps–over half the island’s residents get them–but the amount of welfare can be capped by Congress. Until 1996 Puerto Rico’s economic development was enormously stimulated by a different handout program: U.S. companies were exempted from federal income tax on profits earned in the commonwealth, and many moved operations there.
Despite the obvious economic benefits of association with the United States, many Puerto Ricans deeply resent “colonization.” As Ricardo Alegria, the founder of the Center for the Advanced Study of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean says, “We weren’t Alaska, Hawaii, Arizona or New Mexico. We weren’t some sparsely settled frontier. We were a nation when the United States arrived. . . . There will always be ethnic tension here if they try to make us a state.” In 1993, Renan Soto, the president of the Puerto Rican Federation of Teachers claimed, “Since that Sunday, July 25 of 1898, when we were invaded by the North Americans, Puerto Rico has been the victim of constant cultural aggression and intense publicity directed toward eliminating our language, Spanish.”
The most prominent expression of Puerto Rican resentment is the independentista movement. In 1950, some of its members nearly succeeded in assassinating President Harry Truman. Four years later, Puerto Rican terrorists started shooting from the visitors’ gallery in the House of Representatives, and wounded five members of Congress. To this day, the Puerto Rican independence movement is the leading source of domestic terrorism in the U.S. As Scott McConnell pointed out in an editorial that got him fired from the New York Post, “Puerto Ricans continue to revere as nationalist heroes several martyr-figures whom most Americans would view simply as terrorists.” Mr. McConnell found that Puerto Rican nationalism quickly takes the form of accusations of “racism.” Much like black groups, Puerto Ricans treat criticism as an attack on “la raza” to be dealt with by stern means.
Puerto Ricans have a deep attachment to culture, race and language. They see themselves, correctly, as members of a distinct Latino-Caribbean culture that cannot mesh with traditional Anglo-America. As Ruben Berrios Martinez, the leader of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, writes, “Puerto Rico’s heart is not American. It is Puerto Rican. The national sentiment of Puerto Ricans is entirely devoted to our patria, as we call our homeland in Spanish, our language. We are Puerto Ricans in the same way that Mexicans are Mexicans and Japanese are Japanese. For us, “we the people’ means we Puerto Ricans.”
Puerto Rican nationalism is perhaps on most obvious display during the Olympic Games; the island fields its own “national” team, and Puerto Ricans cheer the loudest when their teams face the United States. Puerto Rico also participates independently in international beauty pageants.
Puerto Ricans take fierce pride in their language. The whole island speaks Spanish, with only about 20 percent of the population fluent in English. This number has stayed the same for many years, since most Puerto Ricans do not want to learn English.
Until 1990, Puerto Rico had two official languages, Spanish and English. In that year, in a fit of linguistic chauvinism, the commonwealth demoted English and established Spanish as the sole official language. In 1993, pro-statehood forces captured the governorship and decided that an officially bilingual Puerto Rico would have a better chance at statehood. English was reinstated, but met huge resistance, including one anti-English rally that drew 100,000 people. Puerto Rico is officially bilingual again but in practice it remains Spanish-speaking.
Not even pro-statehood Puerto Ricans have any intention of abandoning Spanish, which they consider integral to their identity. The current governor, Pedro Rossello, who campaigns for statehood, has nevertheless written: “Spanish belongs to all Puerto Ricans, it is not negotiable under any circumstance or political status.” With Puerto Rico as a “state,” English-speaking Americans could conceivably find themselves in a part of their own country where not even the court system operates in English. They would need an interpreter to answer a summons for a traffic ticket.
If Puerto Ricans are so nationalistic why should there be any interest in statehood at all? The answer is money. If Puerto Rico becomes a state, Uncle Sam’s entire welfare bonanza will be available–including the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program that has seen such spectacular abuse. Puerto Ricans would have to start paying federal income taxes, but this would be made up many times over in increased government handouts. An August, 1996, report from the General Accounting Office (GAO) indicates that Puerto Ricans would pay an estimated $49 million in income taxes but would get an additional three to four billion from taxpayers in the rest of the country.
Loyalty to the U.S. is hardly the main argument for statehood. In his aptly titled book Statehood Is for the Poor, former governor and current congressional delegate Carlos Romero-Barcelo writes:
“Puerto Rico’s per capita contribution to the federal treasury, were we a state, would come to less than that of any state in the Union. At the same time, the per capita benefits we’d reap from federal aid programs would be greater than those of any state in the Union. On top of all this, we’d also have seven or eight Puerto Ricans serving as full voting members of Congress, working up in Washington at all times to help draft and pass new and improved social welfare legislation.”
Mr. Romero-Barcelo means what he says. In 1974, when he was governor, he sued the U.S. government to extend food stamp availability to every town in Puerto Rico. He won in federal court and his victory cost the U.S. taxpayers $500 million in that year alone. Puerto Rican author Robert Fernandez notes that some aid centers in the capitol city of San Juan alone handle more “clients” than the entire state of Texas.
Puerto Ricans also have very high rates of AIDS, drug abuse, crime, poverty, illegitimacy, and unemployment. If Puerto Rico were a state, its AIDS rate (58 per 100,000 inhabitants) would make it third in the nation after New York (69 per 100,000) and Washington D.C. (220 per 100,000). In 1991 the island had a drug addiction rate of 1,972 per 100,000, compared to the U.S. rate of 1,176 per 100,000. In 1993, the Puerto Rican murder rate was more than two and a half times that of the U.S: 24 per 100,000 compared to nine. In 1995 Puerto Rico’s per capita income was $7,670, which was less than half that of Mississippi, our poorest state. While unemployment in the U.S. is running around five percent, unemployment on the island approaches 20 percent.
Puerto Ricans who move to the United States fare worse in some respects than those who stay behind. While the illegitimacy rate on the island is already high at 30 percent, the figure doubles to 60 percent for Puerto Ricans on the mainland. In New York City, where all U.S. welfare programs are available to them, Puerto Ricans are more likely than blacks to be on welfare. If statehood is anything like moving to the mainland, Puerto Ricans may be courting more trouble than they realize.
Prospects for Americans
The vote on the Puerto Rican statehood bill (HR-856) was originally scheduled for after Labor Day, 1997, but was delayed because of grassroots political action by, among others, English First and the Council of Conservative Citizens. But a delay does not kill a bill; Congress could well vote on it this spring, on very little notice.
The bill’s chief sponsor is Don Young (R-Alaska) and it is co-sponsored by such Republican leaders as Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay. The Speaker of the House rarely cosponsors legislation, so this is a sure sign that it is a priority for the GOP. Supposedly conservative Republicans are probably supporting statehood for “the welfare capital of the Caribbean,” as part of the party’s ever-growing commitment to “diversity.” Indeed, GOP pollster Frank Luntz recently urged the party to push for Puerto Rican statehood in order to win Hispanic votes.
With both political parties apparently in favor of statehood, and columnists who write honestly about its implications losing their jobs, prospects for the bill are good. Statehood would probably prove Mr. Romero-Barcelo correct: Eight liberal Democrats (two Senators and six Congressmen) would go to Washington to help pass “improved social welfare legislation.” Because current law limits the number of seats in the House of Representatives to 435, real Americans would lose a congressman for every one Puerto Rico got. The Congressional Research Service projects that the losses would come from six states: Mississippi, Florida, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin.
The new Democratic non-white members of Congress would be an important step towards the Republican party’s long march toward permanent minority status, and the Puerto Rico delegation could be counted on to vote for every program the left espouses, from affirmative action and mass immigration to gun control and support for the U.N. A strengthened and increased Hispanic lobby would probably press hard for more U.S. foreign aid to its racial brothers in Latin America. Multiculturalism and official bilingualism would become, in effect, the law of the land. Appeals to tradition would be meaningless if one of our states had a Latino-Caribbean culture and spoke Spanish.
At the same time, statehood could very well invite precisely the kind of intractable ethnic conflict that now causes so much bloodshed all around the world. Although the independentistas do not get much popular support, they are desperate and determined men. As a spokesman, Carlos M. Ayes, warns, “Statehood will mean war. Violence is hard to stomach, but George Washington killed thousands of British to gain recognition for 13 colonies that claimed the right to be independent. If the United States wants its very own Northern Ireland let them continue this farce.”
Puerto Rico is an alien island with a people, language, culture, and traditions incompatible with the United States. We should be preparing it for independence, not statehood. This plan to absorb four million Third-Worlders is one of the most obviously misguided and potentially destructive pieces of legislation likely to come before Congress this year. It is entirely possible that the bill could come to a vote with only minimal discussion or debate–just like the 1965 immigration act. The media will not discuss its implications honestly, so it will be up to every patriotic organization in the country to see to it that this legislation is shown to be the awful idea that it is and to halt it in its tracks.