In April, Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), the lead Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, reintroduced laws to supply the people of Puerto Rico a likelihood to finish the island’s status as a U.S. territory and select a new, democratic relationship with the U.S.
On this legislative proposal, the Puerto Rico Statehood Act, Congress offers a referendum to Puerto Rican voters with three options: statehood, becoming a foreign country or becoming a foreign country with a free association arrangement just like the U.S. has with three small Pacific Island nations – Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Given the importance of U.S. citizenship to Puerto Rican voters, sections of the bill describing the fate of U.S. citizenship in an evolved Puerto Rico are lengthy, and bill sponsors have even provided a two-page summary of provisions related to U.S. citizenship.
Fortunately, there’s precedent for the fate of U.S. citizenship under each option within the proposed Puerto Rican plebiscite. There’s no must guess. It’s all been done before.
First, under statehood, everyone in Puerto Rico could be U.S. residents, identical to within the fifty states, through the Fourteenth Amendment of the Structure. The bill is obvious that U.S. citizenship for the people of Puerto Rico could be “recognized, protected, and secured” if Puerto Rico became a state.
Second, under independence, U.S. citizenship would eventually end. The U.S. cannot impose U.S. citizenship in another country.
The third option on the ballot, sovereignty in free association with the USA, is often also known as independence, even by the Special Envoy recently appointed by President Biden to barter the terms of those U.S. relationships. In other words, U.S. citizenship eventually ends.
Yet the sovereignty in free association option on the proposed plebiscite ballot has confused plenty of people, even Members of Congress. Nobody appears to essentially know what it’s. The bill includes “dual citizenship rights” which can be “like we’ve within the Marshall Islands or Palau,” said one champion of the proposal while speaking on the ground of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Yet as a former Chairwoman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee subsequently identified, the residents of the Marshall Islands and Palau are usually not residents of the USA. They’ve never been residents of the U.S. Not for a day, not for a 12 months, and never at some stage in any free association agreement.
The Compacts of Free Association (COFAs) which were negotiated between the USA and the Free Associated States (FAS) are silent on the difficulty of U.S. citizenship. COFA residents haven’t been granted U.S. citizenship.
So what do we actually know concerning the status of residents from the FAS? Fortunately, the federal government provides a summary on the subject through a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration (USCI) Services fact sheet on the residents of Palau and a USCI fact sheet on residents of the opposite two FAS – the Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia.
Status of FAS residents
Listed here are some vital facts gleaned from those government documents:
- A 1985 resolution “established the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands as independent nations.” In 1986, The Republic of Palau was identified as “a sovereign nation.” There is no such thing as a ambiguity on this point. The governments of every of those nations and the USA have affirmed that they’re independent and sovereign countries.
- Residents of those nations “are usually not residents or nationals of the USA.”
- Migrants may travel and apply for admission to the USA as nonimmigrants without visas. Nevertheless, “admission to the USA will not be guaranteed.”
- “Most grounds of inadmissibility under U.S. immigration laws, comparable to criminal convictions, still apply.”
- FAS residents may live, study, and work in the USA indefinitely, but the USA has the proper to set terms and conditions on the nonimmigrant stay, comparable to denial of certain advantages and opportunities.
- To achieve admission to the USA under the Compacts, a citizen of the FAS must possess a sound, unexpired passport but don’t need a U.S. visa or another travel documentation. They receive admission stamps, just as residents of another nation will.
- Compact privileges apply only to FAS residents; they don’t apply to husbands, wives, and youngsters of FAS residents who are usually not residents of FAS themselves who must as a substitute apply for admission under the provisions of U.S. immigration law that apply to their nationality and U.S. immigration status sought.
- Individuals who “cannot show that they’ve sufficient technique of support in the USA could also be deportable.” Other grounds of deportability, comparable to conviction for an aggravated felony, also apply.
- Like other foreign employees in the USA, FAS residents must complete for his or her employers on the time of hire an attestation regarding their employment authorization and present documents showing identity and employment authorization for completing Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification.
Is Puerto Rico different?
Supporters of free association for Puerto Rico will not be aware of those facts. In any case, the three freely associated states are tiny nations with populations topping out at roughly 100,000 people. Palua is home to under 20,000. People might be forgiven for not knowing much about them.
Fortunately, the U.S. government makes it easy to find out about them in basic briefing materials. The longer term for Puerto Rico could also be uncertain, but the current realities of free association arrangements are clear.