Suzanne Bibby, Director of Government Relations Published on 29 November 2011
Category: National Alerts
November 29, 2011
You’ve probably been wondering, “What ever happened with the Puerto Rican statehood issue after the House of Representatives passed the Puerto Rico Democracy Act (H.R. 2499) and the Senate subsequently blocked it back in April 2010?” The quick answer is that the effort for statehood has moved from the U.S. Congress to the legislature in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Earlier this month, the Puerto Rican legislature began debating legislation that will require Puerto Rico to hold a national two-part referendum in 2012 to indicate whether its citizens want to remain a self-governing U.S. commonwealth, become independent, negotiate a new status with the U.S., or become the 51st U.S. State.
As you’ll recall, H.R. 2499 was introduced in Congress by Rep. Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR) in 2009 and it would have forced Puerto Rico to hold a national “status” referendum, but the bill was quickly exposed because it deceptively rigged the voting process to favor statehood.
Unfortunately, the voting process provided for in the bill currently under consideration in Puerto Rico is identical to the rigged version provided for in H.R. 2499, which the U.S. Senate rejected. The only difference is that the referendum will be limited to Puerto Rico residents alone.
As you know, Puerto Rico has two official languages, but it operates its day-to-day government operations and schools in Spanish only. Unless the issue of language is addressed ahead of the vote, the Puerto Rican people will not be able to take an informed vote on statehood. If statehood means that Puerto Rico will have to abide by U.S. precedent, then the island would have to switch from de facto Spanish to de facto English in order to be admitted as the 51st State because no territory with an official language other than English has ever been admitted to the Union.
On November 7, 2011, ProEnglish sent a letter to the Office of the Speaker of the House, Jennifer A. González-Colón, and requested to appear before the Special Status Committee in San Juan, the committee considering the new referendum on statehood. The Speaker rejected our request to testify in person, even after Congressman Paul Broun wrote to her on our behalf. Instead, ProEnglish was invited to submit written testimony.
In our testimony, ProEnglish urged the legislature to clarify before the referendum takes place in August 2012 that if the people of Puerto Rico vote to become the 51st State, Puerto Rico would have to:
1. Adopt English as the only official language of day-to-day government operations including all laws, official records, and government proceedings.
2. Lose its exemption from the English testing requirements of federal education law.
3. Make English language instruction mandatory in its schools.
These stipulations must be added to the legislation calling for a status referendum so that Puerto Rican voters can make an informed choice before they vote in a referendum on their country’s future status.
There is a long history of Congress requiring English to be the language of government and schools for territories seeking to be admitted to the Union, e.g. Louisiana, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma. In all these territories that had large non-English speaking populations, Congress announced before the territories voted on the question of statehood that a change in language policy would be a prerequisite for admission.
The legislature’s last day of the 2011 session was November 15th, and although the House passed the bill, the session ended before the Senate could finish its debate. Governor Luis Fortuno, who is a member of the majority “pro-statehood” party (A.K.A. the New Progressive Party, which is equivalent to the Republican Party in the U.S.), will have to call a Special Session of the legislature in early 2012 so the Senate can finalize the debate on the referendum legislation.
ProEnglish will continue to keep you updated as the legislature in San Juan continues this heated debate.
As ProEnglish stated in its testimony, Puerto Ricans have fought bravely defending freedom as members of the U.S. Armed Forces, and they have made great contributions as citizens residing in the U.S., but the U.S. has a duty to all its citizens to reflect their will and to preserve English as the unifying language of our nation.
Press: For media interviews, contact ProEnglish online.
ProEnglish is a self-governing project of U.S., Inc., a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization and the nation's leading advocate of official English. We work through the courts and in the court of public opinion to defend English's historic role as America's common, unifying language, and to persuade lawmakers to adopt English as the official language at all levels of government.
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Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Fortuno (PNP)
"If the Commonwealth is the problem, it cannot be the solution, and therefore should not be among the options that are submitted to the people."
Governor Fortuño’s Budget Address to Puerto Rican Congress, April 12, 2011