In the wake of Hurricane Maria, the island territory of Puerto Rico is making a new push to become a state within the next three years.
Puerto Rico’s representative in the House, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón introduced the bill Wednesday that would make the territory a state “no later than January 1, 2021.”
This is the second time González-Colón, who has no voting power in the House except in committees, has pushed for statehood since elected resident commissioner.
“The catastrophe left behind by Hurricanes Irma and María unmasked the reality of the unequal treatment of the American living in Puerto Rico, forcing the Executive to approve waivers and Congress to make exceptions so that we could receive help,” González-Colón said in a news release Wednesday.
“My colleagues saw firsthand the effects of this unequal treatment due solely to our territorial situation. Statehood is nothing else than Equality; and this Admission Act provides the means to put into effect the values of Democracy and Respect upon which our Nation is built.”
Ricardo Rosselló, Puerto Rico’s governor, echoed her.
“The fight for Puerto Rico’s Equality is one of civil rights,” he said in the release.
So far the bill has bipartisan support and currently 37 co-sponsors — a majority of which are Republicans.
The Puerto Rico Admission Act of 2018 proposes creating a bipartisan task force — the Congressional Task Force on Equality for American Citizens of Puerto Rico — of nine members to help with the transition and make recommendations to Congress.
The Caribbean island is still recovering from Hurricane Maria and is currently in a financial crisis.
Last year, 97% of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of statehood in a nonbinding referendum, though only 23% of voters cast a ballot. Congress would have to pass a statute to admit Puerto Rico as a state, which President Donald Trump would also have to approve.
Héctor Ferrer, the president of an opposing party in Puerto Rico that favors keeping the island a commonwealth, pushed back against the bill, saying it’s dead on arrival and intends to distract from the country’s problems.
Puerto Rican residents have been American citizens since 1917. Its residents can vote in US presidential primaries, but not in presidential elections.
“For some issues we are considered a domestic territory, for others we are a foreign country. Those differences in federal law have to end,” González-Colón told CNN en Español’s Juan Carlos Lopez in an interview Wednesday. “If not, the economic situation and the civil rights issues will not improve until we put a stop to this.”
She added that if granted statehood, “Puerto Rico would definitely be a battleground for both” Democrats and Republicans.
During a lunch at the White House last Thursday, Rosselló told President Donald Trump that Puerto Ricans “want to be a state. We want equal treatment.”
Trump joked that the process would go quickly since “Ricardo is going to guarantee us two Republican senators.”