Puerto rico government

Opinion: July 4th is time to remove asterisk from US citizenship

From 1898 to 1917, the United States acquired territories in Puerto Rico, Guam, the American Samoa Islands and the Virgin Islands through peace agreements ending the Spanish-American War, a military conquest and a purchase. of the Kingdom of Denmark. Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam all remain unincorporated territories.

The history of American white supremacy lingers at the center of the legal status of these territories. Nothing is more fundamental to citizenship than equal rights under the law, but over the past century citizenship in these territories has been limited and conditional – an institutional vestige of imperialist decisions taken in the past in because of race and ethnicity and reinforced by politicized racism today. The federal government must provide full state or independence to residents of these territories. The choice to accept it or not should be theirs, as it should have been 100 years ago.

Washington DC is another key example that comes to mind, with almost 700,000 citizens living in the Federal District. They pay federal taxes, but they are not fully represented in Congress. The district has one delegate, with limited voting rights, and no senator representing his interests.

Washington has also argued for a full state and has found strong support among some Democratic lawmakers. However, efforts to gain DC statehood have stalled in the Senate, largely due to Republicans’ fear of losing political power, as the predominantly black population of the district reliably and massively oscillates. democrat. But this is not the only territory with limited status. Guam, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands are all technically affiliated with the United States or are part of the Union, but exist as second tier territories.

This week is the perfect opportunity to consider full citizenship for the residents of these territories. The Biden administration, an official told CNN, is introducing a strategy to “encourage US citizenship” for eligible immigrants. What about those who inhabit these territories? Meanwhile, voting rights are also in the news with state legislatures across the country passing restrictive voting laws that will make it harder for communities of color to get to the polls. Look no further than Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling upholding Arizona voting restrictions. These measures and recent developments have sparked appropriate outrage from the left, but a deafening silence largely remains about people living in US territories and the limitations on their citizenship.
In total, more than 3.5 million people live in these territories but do not enjoy all the rights and benefits of citizenship. For example, many Puerto Ricans pay federal taxes, but they cannot vote in U.S. presidential elections, or elect representatives or senators to Congress.
As nationals, American Samoans have a looser legal relationship with the United States, but no less commitment to patriotic service. American Samoans enlist in the military at a higher rate than citizens of any other US state or territory. The territory is largely self-governing by its own governor and legislative body, but remains under the auspices of the Home Secretary, who retains the power to approve constitutional amendments, override the governor’s veto and reject the appointment. judges.
Why do these weird and archaic territorial designations still exist? White supremacy. In 1899, the United States began to seek additional territory beyond the continental borders, picking up imperial acquisitions in the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. But these acquisitions have caused an identity crisis. Historian Daniel Immerwahr, in his book How to Hide an Empire, demonstrated how three core values ​​dominated the political landscape at the turn of the 20th century: imperialism, white supremacy and republicanism (not the Republican Party, but rather the belief in self-government). These three values ​​were found to be incompatible with each other.
US History Contains Scary Warning About Restricting Votes
In the 19th century, the federal government lured white settlers to new territories by offering them cheap land seized from Indigenous nations. Once enough settlers arrived, they formed a provisional government and a proposed state constitution, which Congress generally accepted as a new state.
For example, in 1820 Congress accepted a compromise that admitted Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state to maintain the balance of power between North and South. But this same process did not apply to territories acquired beyond American borders. White settlers were not interested in residing in most of the more tropical regions, and most officials did not believe that the natives could manage self-government.
For example, Secretary of War Elihu Root argued that Puerto Ricans could not be trusted with a Republican government until they learned “the lesson of self-control and respect for the principles of constitutional government ”; a process he expected to take some time, as “they would inevitably fail without a course of schooling under a strong and guiding hand.” As Immerwahr wrote in his book and discussed with me in a podcast interview, many members of Congress also didn’t want brown or black colleagues sitting in the multi-story offices of Senate chambers.

As a result, the US government had three options: it could maintain its white supremacy and imperial designs but would have to abandon its republican values; they could retain their white supremacy and their republican values ​​but would have to give up their dreams of empire; or they could further expand their land holdings and encourage Republican autonomy, but would have to welcome new governments led by non-white citizens as their equals. Not surprisingly, republicanism was the easy target.

More than a century later, these bellicose impulses still divide this nation. The federal government still wants to retain control and access to territories around the world, but many political figures oppose their inclusion in the Union as equal members. If we share the streets of DC with other Washingtonians, trust American Samoans to serve in our military, and expect Puerto Ricans to contribute to the national budget, we can certainly expand the benefits of citizenship. We can recognize our imperial past and grant full independence or full state status.

Correction: An earlier version of this exhibit incorrectly dated the period in which the United States acquired its unincorporated territories. It was from 1898 to 1917.

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