Puerto Ricans and U.S. Virgin Islanders are American Citizens
Many years ago when I was a twenty-something, in a discussion with a Puerto Rican coworker I learned that residents of Puerto Rico are American citizens. Surely this fact was included in my education, but it obviously did not take hold. As I was politically active and thought I knew everything, I was chagrined and concerned over this lapse. But after this discussion, I never forgot it, nor that residents who were born in the U.S. territories of Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands are also U.S. citizens.
This is a complicated subject, however, evidenced by the lawsuit of Tuaua v. United States, in which an American Samoan sued the United States on the basis that residents of American Samoa are also U.S. citizens and entitled to the full benefits of citizenship (they are not presently considered to be U.S. citizens).
Moreover, an important restriction to note is that while American citizens in U.S. territories can vote in U.S. Presidential primary elections, they cannot vote in the General Presidential Election because the territories have no representation in the Electoral College.
The tragedy of not understanding the citizen status of certain territories is especially significant today in light of the horrific damage inflicted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria upon the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, not to mention the recent threat by North Korea against Guam.
Roughly half of all Americans are unaware that residents of these islands are American citizens by birth. A recent survey conducted by Morning Consult showed that higher percentages of Americans who are older or college-educated are aware of this important fact more so than Americans who are younger or non-college-educated. It is crucial to the survival of the peoples of these important U.S. territories that all Americans understand the nature of their citizenship because when they do their empathy increases and they are more likely to pressure their elected representatives to vote for increases in aid to these islands.
Beyond any misunderstanding about citizenship status, mainland Americans should have empathy because of the long and close relationship with these beloved islands through more than a century of tourism.
And speaking of empathy — which is what the Three E’s is about — we are again reminded how crucial it is that in our modern era we Americans take it upon ourselves to read as much as we can, discuss issues frequently and dig deep to learn the facts so that we can make informed decisions that affect our own survival and wellbeing as well as that of others.
My empathy for the people of Puerto Rico in particular stems from several sources:
(1) A former co-worker with whom I worked closely for many years and of whom I am very fond is married to a wonderful man who hails from Puerto Rico. While the couple has pursued their respective careers in New York City, they recently relocated to Puerto Rico to be close to family and I was very worried about them. Fortunately, they, their family members and home survived the devastation, but they still face challenges and most of the island remains in dire straits.
(2) I was alarmed by the slower response of the U.S. to the damage suffered by Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands than was shown to U.S. mainland areas that were hit by hurricanes recently, as well as the lack of understanding by Americans of the citizenship status of the people who lived on these islands.
(3) Finally, I realized that many children in the United States, including those who were born in Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands whose families have immigrated to the U.S., do not know that people from those territories are U.S. citizens. A piece in Newsday really hit home, in which the author relates an encounter with a Puerto Rican high school student in Chicago who did not appear to know that she was a U.S. citizen.
I believe that the U.S. government and all Americans should be citizens of the world and reach out to other countries when they need our help. But if we are to put “America first,” that concept should include all Americans, including those natives of U.S. offshore territories who are recognized as U.S. citizens.
Americans are generally an empathetic and generous people and there are many relief efforts underway to help our fellow Americans who are victims of Hurricane Harvey and Irma in Texas, Louisiana and Florida. For those who wish also to help the victims of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands there are many organizations whose efforts you can support, and you likely have your favorites as well. Here are a few links to those that I have found to be helpful: USAID, Hispanic Federation and USVI Recovery. As with anything, however, you should conduct your own good research.
There is no stronger show of empathy than when people stand together to help each other.
Until next time,
Note to my readers: I’m happy to be back blogging on The Three E’s, and starting with today’s entry will publish on alternate Tuesdays. Please let me know in the “comments” section if there are any subjects in particular that you would like to see addressed in this space. And don’t forget that I welcome your comments on any of my entries; I want to know what you’re thinking and if you have different viewpoints.
I am also updating my website and hope to have it ready soon!
Thank you for sticking with my blog, and see you in two weeks!