Debate over United States citizenship (horizontal-x3)
The first generation of children would inherit the citizenship. (Suministrada)

Do Puerto Ricans loose US citizenship if Puerto Rico becomes a sovereign country?

The answer is no.

Yesterday, historian and researcher Charles Venator Santiago expounded on the constitutional root of citizenship during the discussion “At 100 years from the Jones Act: Citizenship, permanent o rescindable?,” which took place at Universidad del Este (UNE), in Carolina.

“The available research unequivocally shows that United States citizens of a Puerto Rican origin are entitled to permanent Unites States citizenship if Puerto Rico becomes a sovereign republic or an independent nation-state,” stated the Political Sciences scholar at the University of Connecticut.

Quoting the case of Afroyim v. Rusk, which established that citizens of the United States cannot be stripped of their citizenship involuntarily, Venator Santiago proposed that US citizens born on the Island could claim the civil right protections guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment of the federal Constitution or by legislation extended to Puerto Rico.

As part of his analysis, he said that the first generation of children would inherit the citizenship.

“The problem is not so much the first group, but those who come after (the second generation),” he said as part of the discussion organized by the Senate of Puerto Rico and the Institute for Public Policy of the Ana G. Mendez University System.

The discussion, which heard remarks from the president of the Senate, Thomas Rivera Schatz, associate Justice of the Supreme Court Rafael Martínez Torres, UNE professor José Rivera González, and professor Jesús Rodríguez Urbano, from the School of Law of Pontificia Universidad Católica, started with a historical account of the laws that have granted Puerto Ricans some kind of citizenship.

“The Jones Act of 1917 was neither the first nor the last law that granted Puerto Ricans  US citizenship,” said the historian.

He noted that, since the United States Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris in 1898, it has enacted at least 11 laws with provisions on some type of citizenship and has debated 101 measures regarding the matter.

Article IX of the Treaty of Paris, and section 7 of the Foraker Act, of 1900, created the Puerto Rican citizenship.

The Congress has also granted through time four types of citizenship to Puerto Rico: the Puerto Rican citizenship, US citizenship by individual naturalization, by collective naturalization, and by birth.

“It’s possible to identify at least 10 interpretations of the status as US citizens born in Puerto Rico,” he said before an auditorium of politicians, scholars, an associate Justices of the Supreme Court.

Following along that line, he held that one interpretation proposes that the Citizenship Clause of the XIV Amendment is the constitutional source of US citizenship in PuertoRico.

He also said an interpretation articulated by the Congressional Research Service in a 1989 memorandum prevails in debates over the plebiscite process.

That interpretation established that the Territories’ Clause was the constitutional source for the statute on citizenship for Puerto Rico.

“Consequently, the Congress could pass legislation that would impose the involuntary expatriation of citizens born in Puerto Rico if the archipelago were to become a sovereign or independent nation-state,” Venator Santiago pointed out.

But constitutionalist José Julián Álvarez González objected to the position held by the Research Service.

“Its argument is based on the recognition that the Supreme Court, through its jurisprudence, has extended the right to due process of the law to Puerto Ricans, which should avoid or prevent Congress from expatriating all those born in Puerto Rico after Puerto Rico gains independence or sovereignty,” Venator Santiago argued.

The debate over the origin of US citizenship of Puerto Ricans also made its way into the plebiscite on status to be held next June 11 in the letter that the Department of Justice sent to Governor Ricardo Rosselló.

“One of the concerns posed in the letter was the assertion that the condition as state was the only status option to retain US citizenship. The United States Department of Justice rejected the claim by the Puerto Rican government because under the current law, Puerto Ricans are entitled to an unconditional statutory status to citizenship by birth,” Venator Santiago said.


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