New Bill Could Make Puerto Rico The 51st State By 2021

14 Democrats and 20 Republicans have already sponsored the bill.

A representative from Puerto Rico has introduced legislation to Congress to make the U.S. territory a state by 2021.

Jenniffer González-Colón, Puerto Rico's non-voting Republican representative in Congress, introduced the Puerto Rico Admission Act of 2018, which was co-sponsored by 22 Republicans and 14 Democrats. The bill aims to create a task force that will explore the necessary changes for Puerto Rico to become a state and move Puerto Rico to become an incorporated territory, a status Hawaii had for five decades before becoming a state. 

"This is the first step to open a serious discussion to determine the ultimate political status of Puerto Rico," González said at a press conference announcing the bill, as reported by NBC News. "To sum everything up, this is about equality."

One of the key sponsors of the bill is Rep. Bob Bishop, a Republican from Utah who is the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

"I'm pleased to be one of the sponsors," Rep. Bishop said at the press conference. "I look forward to the day 51 is a reality."

Right now, Puerto Ricans has its own constitution and governor but anyone born there is considered a natural-born U.S. citizen. Puerto Ricans do not pay federal taxes, but if their status were changed to become an incorporated territory, they would have to start. Even then, though, it would still not be entitled to total political rights such as having a vote in Congress. Puerto Ricans already pay U.S. payroll taxes.

For years, the debate has raged both in Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland about whether it should become a state. 97 percent of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of statehood in a non-binding referendum in 2017, but the party most opposed to the idea boycotted the vote. Just 23 percent of all Puerto Ricans voted. In 2012, a similar vote with better turnout found that 61 percent of Puerto Ricans were in favor of statehood when three choices were presented: independence, a sovereign, free associated state or statehood. 

According to Pew, 5.1 million Hispanics Americans of Puerto Rican descent live in the United States, compared to the 3.6 million living Puerto Rico.

Despite the island's close ties to the United States and the fact millions of U.S. citizens live there, many in Congress are skeptical. Puerto Rico declared bankruptcy last year, has a 45 percent poverty rate and the unemployment rate is over 12 percent. Fiscal hawks are sure to raise these concerns when adopting the island as a state is considered, something that would divert billions of dollars of federal funds. 

Others have been skeptical of the timing of the bill. Carlos Vargas-Ramos, a research associate at the Center for Puerto Rican studies, told NBC News that he doesn't see how the bill can get passed this time of year. With midterm elections right around the corner, it's unlikely Congress could move the ball before there is turnover in their membership. 

Since Hurricane Maria, which forced many Puerto Ricans to leave the island to come to the mainland, there has been renewed talk about adding Puerto Rico as a state. Puerto Rico Governor Ricard Rossello told the New York Daily News that the time had come.

"In the past, this issue has been very hard to move forward," Rossello said. "No longer do we want ambiguity. We want clarity. Either here in Congress, you are with us or you are against the people of Puerto Rico."

Cover photo: Shutterstock / Dennis

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