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Heinrich Leads Senate Introduction of the Puerto Rico Status Act

WASHINGTON – At a press conference today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was joined by Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi and several congressional colleagues to introduce the Puerto Rico Status Act, legislation that lays out a process for the people of Puerto Rico to determine the future of the island’s political status. The legislation is co-led by U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.). U.S. Representatives Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.), Darren Soto (D-Fla.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón (R-Puerto Rico) introduced companion legislation in the House.

“It has been more than 100 years since Puerto Ricans became U.S. citizens. They deserve an overdue, permanent, and democratic answer on their political status,” said Heinrich. “It’s our moral responsibility to make sure the millions of American citizens living in Puerto Rico can decide their own future. That’s what this legislation does.” 

Heinrich Introduces PRSA

CAPTION: U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) is joined by Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and U.S. Representative Darren Soto (D-Fla.), Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón (R-Puerto Rico), and U.S. Shadow Senator Zoraida Buxó in introducing the Puerto Rico Status Act. 

“All citizens of the United States should enjoy the same fundamental civil rights, regardless of where in our country they are born or reside. But for 100 years, the people of Puerto Rico have lived as American citizens without the full benefits of citizenship,” said Padilla. “Despite contributing billions of dollars in federal taxes each year, Puerto Ricans are denied voting representation in Congress and access to crucial programs funded by their tax dollars like SNAP and Supplemental Security Income. This is a living contradiction that cuts to the essence of who we are as a democracy — and we must do better. I will keep fighting alongside Senator Heinrich and my Senate colleagues to give Puerto Rico the right to determine its future."

“The people of Puerto Rico deserve the right to decide their own future, and I’m proud to introduce this commonsense legislation supporting a transparent, democratic process for the island,” said Cortez Masto. “I will continue working to provide Puerto Ricans with opportunities to grow and strengthen their economy and communities.”

“For 106 years, the people of Puerto Rico have been citizens of the United States, yet they still live in political limbo. It’s long past time that those millions of U.S. citizens living and working in Puerto Rico have the opportunity to decide their future status,” said Wyden. “That’s why I’m proud to support legislation that lays out a process for the people of Puerto Rico to determine the future of the island’s political status. It’s a fundamental matter of fairness that these U.S citizens have the right to decide whether they want full representation in Congress and equal access to essential federal services.”

“Puerto Rico’s political status is a decision for the people of Puerto Rico. Too often, the Puerto Rican community in Connecticut has watched the federal government fall short of supporting their friends and family on the Island when faced with devastating natural disasters and economic crises. This bill is a commonsense compromise that would ensure Puerto Ricans are no longer relegated to second-class citizenship and are granted the long overdue right to self-determination,” said Murphy.

“The people of Puerto Rico deserve the chance to decide their own destiny – whatever that may be,” said Schatz. “One thing is clear: the status quo for Puerto Rico is unjust and undemocratic. We need a path to change it, and that’s exactly what our bill aims to provide.”

“This important legislation empowers the people of Puerto Rico to decide what future they want for themselves – bringing together a wide variety of stakeholders on one path forward. Whether the people of Puerto Rico choose statehood, independence, or sovereignty, they deserve the full benefits of citizenship," said Blumenthal. 

“Puerto Rico’s territory status has deprived the island of its full potential for political, economic, and social development for too long,” said Grijalva. “The Puerto Rico Status Act represents a historic compromise to finally resolve that status. But this landmark legislation is not just another idea from lawmakers in Washington—it incorporates the input of elected officials, community leaders, and the hundreds of residents in Puerto Rico who engaged in the drafting of the bill both in person and online. I want to thank Senator Heinrich for taking the important step of bringing the Puerto Rico Status Act to the Senate and I encourage my colleagues across Congress to get it to President Biden’s desk quickly.”

“After more than one hundred years of colonial rule, Puerto Ricans need a democratic mechanism to determine their own future. The status quo is unsustainable, unfair, and undignified, and Congress must move toward decolonization. I commend Senator Heinrich and my other Senate colleagues who have joined us in this effort by introducing the Puerto Rico Status Act,” said Velázquez. “The people of Puerto Rico must decide their future, and Congress has the responsibility and power to facilitate that process.”

"Puerto Rico has endured many hardships over the last few years — hurricanes, earthquakes, budget cuts to vital services, and more. We’ve worked across the aisle to help our brothers and sisters on the Island and continue these efforts through the Puerto Rico Status Act. This will allow Puerto Ricans to decide their future through a clear path to vote for statehood or other options," said Soto.  

“For far too long, the people of Puerto Rico have been deprived of the self-determination that they and all people deserve,” said Hoyer. “We owe it to Puerto Ricans to bring an end to their island's 124-year-old status as a U.S. territory and to grant them control over their island's political future. As Majority Leader, I was proud to bring the Puerto Rico Status Act to the House Floor two times in an effort to give them that opportunity. I remain committed to working with Puerto Rico’s elected officials and community leaders to ensure that the people of Puerto Rico have full autonomy and democratic control over their status.”

“Today we continue making strides in our path towards fulfilling the democratic values upon which our Nation was founded, which must be available to all its citizens. This bill is responding to the moral imperative of putting an end to the century old colonial status of Puerto Rico and providing a permanent non-territorial solution. Our status is unworthy of America. Having disenfranchised American citizens goes against everything the United States stands for," said Pierluisi. 

Pierluisi continued, "These senators have all decided to be on the right side of history and answer the call to provide full democracy to the more than 3.2 million American citizens in Puerto Rico in accordance with the U.S. Constitution. This is actually the Senate bill to resolve the Puerto Rico status issue with the highest number of original cosponsors in our history and that bodes well in our fight for equality."

“I'm proud to have partaken in negotiations in the House that led to the bipartisan passage of the Puerto Rico Status Act, historic legislation that enables the people of Puerto Rico to end the current territorial status through a binding referendum. I thank Senator Heinrich for joining this effort by introducing the Senate companion,” said González-Colón, the sole representative of Puerto Rico in Congress. “After 125 years under the American flag, including 106 years as proud Americans, we have more than earned the right to be heard and democratically determine our own future. The Puerto Rico Status Act is the vehicle to achieve that, providing us with the opportunity to ratify our desire for statehood, as we have done in the last three plebiscites.”

"This bill is a step forward in the right direction. It will allow us to reach the ultimate objective: ending the territorial-colonial condition that hinders the rights of 3.2 million fellow American citizens living in the island in an embarrassing state of political segregation," said U.S. Shadow Senator Zoraida Buxó.

Buxo continued, "This marks the beginning of a process that will give all of us an opportunity to have an open conversation on the need to make a fundamental policy change towards Puerto Rico. It won’t be an easy task, but as our first President George Washington once said: 'The harder the conflict, the greater the triumph'."     

The Puerto Rico Status Act authorizes a federally sponsored referendum, known as a plebiscite, to resolve Puerto Rico’s political status. The legislation details the transition to and implementation of a non-territory status for Puerto Rico— Statehood, Independence, or Sovereignty in Free Association with the United States—that is chosen by a majority of voters in Puerto Rico. 

The Puerto Rico Status Act was drafted with extensive input from members of Congress; local elected government officials; citizenship, immigration, and constitutional law experts; and hundreds of residents of Puerto Rico. 

The legislation previously passed the House of Representatives on a bipartisan basis on Dec. 15, 2022. The Biden-Harris administration endorsed the legislation with a favorable Statement of Administration Policy.   

More information on the Puerto Rico Status Act, including a fact sheet, bill text, and one-page explainer of the legislation, can be found here

Photos from the Puerto Rico Status Act Press Conference can be found here