By Emma Scher
WNPA Olympia News Bureau
OLYMPIA — Washington may become the fourth state to petition the federal government to integrate Puerto Rico into the United States, as a step toward becoming a state.
Currently, the Puerto Rico is an unincorporated U.S. territory, the same classification as Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Even though Puerto Ricans have U.S. citizenship and pay taxes to the U.S. government, they are denied some liberties, like the right to vote in U.S. elections or receive certain Social Security benefits. The only U.S. constitutional liberties applied to Puerto Rico are the rights to life, liberty and property.
It is unclear whether the residents of Puerto Rico desire their territory to become a U.S. state.
According to Puerto Rican election reports, 97 percent of Puerto Ricans voters supported statehood, but many who opposed statehood boycotted the election, with only 23 percent of citizens participating in the last election.
According to House Joint Memorial 4009’s analysis, incorporating Puerto Rico has no legal ties to statehood, but provides a path for Puerto Rico to follow should it desire to become a state. So far, all incorporated territories have become states, save for one of the islands in the Territory of Hawaii.
According to HJM 4009’s prime sponsor Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, if passed, the petition would essentially function as a “strongly worded memo” to Congress asking them to take action on what is happening in Puerto Rico, and hopefully will restore a level of efficacy to its decision-making process.
“They look at the way D.C. views them and think, ‘why do I even vote, it doesn’t matter what we say, it’s not going to change anything,’” he said. “Puerto Ricans have the right to decide their own political future.”
The memorial has 16 other bipartisan sponsors and was unanimously voted out of committee with a “do pass” recommendation. Tennessee, Illinois, and Florida all have proposed similar requests in their legislatures.
Rose Feliciano, a Seattle resident who has family living in Puerto Rico, testified in support of HJM 4009 in a public hearing. She said the memorial would send a message to Congress that Puerto Rico needs a clear path to statehood.
“While I would personally support Puerto Rico being a state, I know half of my cousins would prefer Puerto Rico being an independent country,” she said. “But they need to have the opportunity to have their voices heard.”