Thank you, Mr. Speaker:
I rise to discuss the political status of Puerto Rico, which is home to more than three million American citizens.
In my home state of Florida, there are now 1.2 million people who were born in Puerto Rico or who have Puerto Rican roots. That’s more than any other state.
Every month, many Puerto Ricans move to Florida and other states in search of a brighter future. The island has been through so much—from the economic crisis, to Hurricane Maria, to the earthquakes, to COVID-19.
In Florida, we will always welcome these families with open arms. But I want them to have more opportunities in Puerto Rico. I don’t want them to feel like they have no alternative but to leave their beloved home.
In my Orlando district, most of my Puerto Rican constituents have family members and friends still living on the island. Because they care deeply about Puerto Rico, I care deeply about Puerto Rico.
But every Member of Congress should care about Puerto Rico—because Puerto Ricans are our fellow American citizens. We’re part of the same American family, even though the hard truth is that the United States hasn’t always treated Puerto Rico very well.
Our country now has the chance to do right by Puerto Rico.
That’s because, on November 3rd, Puerto Rico held a vote on its political status.
In a referendum, the people of Puerto Rico were asked the following question:
“Should Puerto Rico be admitted immediately into the Union as a State?” Yes or no?
Even though Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory since 1898, and island residents have been American citizens since 1917, this was the first time the people of Puerto Rico were asked this simple and direct question.
According to the results, over 52 percent of voters—more than 623,000 people—answered yes, while nearly 48 percent of voters—answered no.
The vote was fair and the results are clear.
At this point, it is beyond dispute that a majority of the American citizens living in Puerto Rico want the territory to become a state.
Now, are there people in Puerto Rico who would prefer for the island to remain a territory, or to become a sovereign nation? Absolutely. And that is completely valid and legitimate.
But when it comes to the political destiny of a place, the views of the minority cannot trump, or take precedence over, the views of the majority. That would turn the concept of democracy on its head. Votes matter.
Now that the people of Puerto Rico have spoken, the federal government must listen. Whether it’s the White House or Congress, whether it’s Democrats or Republicans, we must respect and respond to this result.
To do otherwise would be immoral and undemocratic, beneath the dignity of our great nation.
Let me be crystal clear on two points, so there is no misunderstanding.
First, it is well known that I personally support statehood, because I think it will provide the people of Puerto Rico with democracy and equality and political power and a better quality of life. They do not have those things right now and they deserve to have them.
By the way, I’m an immigrant and a refugee. I grew up in Virginia speaking Vietnamese with my parents. One of the many reasons I love America is because it is a mix of people from different cultures, with different traditions, who speak different languages. I reject the notion that statehood would weaken Puerto Rico’s beautiful culture or its proud traditions, or affect the island’s use of the Spanish language.
Having said all this, even though I personally favor statehood, it is not my place to substitute my views for the views of the people of Puerto Rico.
If they wished to remain a territory, or to become a nation, I would honor that wish.
However, the majority of voters have chosen statehood, and so I intend to respect that choice.
Finally, let me say this. I’m a Democrat, but my support for statehood has nothing to do with any prediction about whether Puerto Rico would be a “blue” state or a “red” state. History teaches us that such predictions tend to be wrong. I personally think Puerto Rico would be a swing state that elects both Democrats and Republicans.
However, I would support statehood if Puerto Rico were as Republican as Wyoming or as Democratic as Vermont. To oppose statehood because you fear the people will not vote the way you want them to vote violates the most basic principles of justice and democracy—and I have zero patience for it.
In the coming weeks, I will work with Puerto Rico’s governor-elect, resident commissioner, and legislative assembly; with the incoming Biden administration; and with my congressional colleagues on both sides of the aisle to determine the best path forward.
I cannot promise a particular result, but I can promise I will never stop fighting for equality for the American citizens of Puerto Rico.
I yield back the balance of my time.