Puerto Rico’s New Progressive Party may not wait for another referendum before pushing forward with its bid to make the island the 51st state.
The island’s pro-statehood Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi told the U.S. Congress Wednesday that he’d submit “stand-alone legislation” to address Puerto Rico’s status. His office told The Huffington Post that Pierluisi plans to file the bill by mid-May.
It’s still not clear what exactly that legislation will entail.
The White House budget submitted to Congress last week included $2.5 million to hold another referendum on Puerto Rico’s status. Pierluisi said Wednesday that his legislation would “complement President Obama’s request.”
“The only way to resolve the island’s status is through statehood or national sovereignty,” Pierlusi told Congress. “Puerto Rico cannot resolve its status by maintaining the same undemocratic status that my people have endured since 1898 and that they soundly rejected in November.” (Watch Pierluisi deliver his comments below.)
But a committee formed by his party to deal with the status question recommended foregoing another referendum and simply submitting legislation asking Congress to make Puerto Rico a full-fledged U.S. state. The PNP will vote on the recommendation on April 29, according to Puerto Rican daily El Nuevo Día.
The two-part, non-binding plebiscite held in November energized the statehood movement, though the idea failed to win a majority of the votes cast.
The first question asked whether voters wanted to maintain their current relationship with the United States. Some 52.4 percent of voters said they did not.
The second question asked whether voters wanted Puerto Rico to become a U.S. state, an independent country or a freely associated sovereign state -- a type of independence in close alliance with the United States. Remaining a U.S. commonwealth wasn’t an option on the second question.
Statehood won the largest share of votes, but more than 480,000 voters cast blank ballots on the second question, leaving statehood with only 44.9 percent of the total.
Support for the idea may have grown since then. A poll released this month, conducted jointly by Suffolk University and the University of Turabo in Puerto Rico, found that 70 percent of the island’s voters favored statehood, El Nuevo Día reports.
The White House recommendation for a new plebiscite didn’t seem like much of a vote of confidence for the referendum held on Nov. 6, though it acknowledged that a majority of the island’s voters aren’t happy with the status quo. The budget item says the U.S. Attorney General would have to approve the plebiscite’s terms.
Complicating matters, Pierluisi doesn’t see eye-to-eye on the statehood issue with the island’s governor, Alejandro García Padilla. A proponent of keeping the status quo, García Padillo called for his supporters to cast blank ballots on the second question in the Nov. 6 referendum.
García Padilla said last week that he’s waiting to see what the White House will do before taking action on the status issue.
Puerto Rico has remained a U.S. commonwealth despite voting on its status four times since 1967.
A Majority Didn't Support Statehood
With just 46 percent of the ballots cast, statehood doesn't have the support of the majority of the Puerto Rican electorate.
Luis Fortuño's Gone
Puerto Rican voters not only didn't support statehood, they narrowly voted to oust one of the biggest proponents of statehood from the governorship. With Alejandro Garcia Padilla of the Popular Democratic Party taking office, the idea will likely lose steam.
Obama Isn't Into It
"The status of Puerto Rico should be decided by the residents of Puerto Rico," Obama said last year. "If the plebiscite, or the referendum, that takes place in Puerto Rico indicates that there is a strong preference from the majority of the Puerto Rican people, I think that will influence how Congress approaches any actions that might be taken to address status issues." That's not the way the vote went down.
Puerto Ricans Are Already Citizens
Many Puerto Ricans who favor statehood already live in U.S. states. Puerto Ricans received citizenship, along with military conscription, in 1917. Today, some <a href="http://www.pewhispanic.org/2011/06/13/a-demographic-portrait-of-puerto-ricans/">4.6 million people of Puerto Rican origin live</a> in the United States, compared to 3.7 million on the island, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. In the words of historian Angel Collado-Schwartz, “Statehood is available to all Puerto Ricans -- you have 50 states to move to.”
Congress Isn't Interested
Congressional aides tell The Hill that Congress won't both with legislation to initiate the process to <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/house/266799-congress-expected-to-ignore-puerto-ricos-statehood-vote">bring Puerto Rico into the union</a> as a state because the vote wasn't convincing enough. One staffer viewed the status vote as a "statistical fiction."