House lawmakers push for Puerto Rico statehood amid disaster relief debate

The U.S. Capitol Building in Washington (AP Photo/ J. David Ake, File)

WASHINGTON — The latest effort to make Puerto Rico the 51st state was introduced in Congress on Thursday amid renewed focus on the commonwealth and the US government’s response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

The Puerto Rico Admission Act of 2019, which was introduced by Rep. Darren Soto, D-Florida, and Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón, a Republican who represents the island in the House, would grant Puerto Rico equal civil rights and full statehood within 90 days of passage.

“From the day I was sworn in as Puerto Rico’s sole representative in Congress, and filed the Puerto Rico Admission Act, I stated very clearly that I would work different strategies, across all platforms to achieve the full equality for Puerto Rico, which can only be achieved through statehood,” Gonzalez said in a news release.

Gonzalez has introduced similar bills in the past, which failed to gain traction in the House or Senate. The 2019 bill is the first that calls for direct statehood with no referendums or transitional steps, and similar to other efforts, faces heavy headwinds for advancing in Congress.

The move comes as the Republican-controlled Senate considers a new disaster relief package for the territory and tensions rise between President Donald Trump and Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who supports the bill.

“Puerto Rico’s colonial status and unsustainable relationship with the federal government has gone on for over a century, even as our citizens have contributed to the growth, culture and social fabric of the United States, and stood shoulder to shoulder with our fellow citizens on battlefields around the globe and under our same flag,” Rossello said in the release.

Puerto Rico renewed its push for statehood last year after Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the island in 2017. Although the territory is still recovering economically, Trump reportedly told Senate Republicans earlier this week that he questioned the wisdom of sending the island additional disaster relief aid.

In Thursday’s news release, Soto referenced disaster relief efforts as a reason to give Puerto Rico statehood.

“We have seen time and time again that colonial status is simply not working,” Soto said. “Look no further than the abysmal Hurricane Maria recovery efforts and the draconian PROMESA law to prove this point all too well.”

US Reps. Ruben Gallego of Arizona and Jamie Raskin of Maryland, both Democrats, as well as Puerto Rico Sen. Carmelo Ríos Santiago also expressed support of the bill in Thursday’s release.

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