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Allentown Morning Call

Puerto Ricans Deserve The Full Rights Of Citizenship

By KENNETH D.MCLINTOCK, Special to The Morning Call

February 7, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Allentown Morning Call. All rights reserved. 

SIDRA, Puerto Rico -- When the newly elected U.S. Congress was sworn in last month, it was a testament to how our government is run by the people and for the people. As American citizens, we elect and send one of our peers to represent us in the House and we have two members in the Senate. However, not all of us are represented, and the next Congress has an opportunity to prevent this from happening in the next national election.

Close to 4 million Americans were denied electing senators or representatives this past November -- the 3.9 million Americans residing in Puerto Rico . American citizens since 1917, for almost 86 years Puerto Ricans have been denied the full voting rights every other American citizen enjoys.

Currently, the citizens of Puerto Rico have one nonvoting delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives and have no representation in the Senate. Despite Puerto Rico 's limited voice in the legislative branch of the U.S. government, Puerto Ricans are still required to pay some taxes to the federal government and can be drafted into the military.

In fact, as we wage war against terrorism, thousands of disenfranchised, yet patriotic, American citizens from Puerto Rico are serving in our Armed Forces. One of them, Lance Cpl. Antonio James Sledd, already gave his life in a terrorist attack in October against American servicemen in Kuwait.

In spite of those sacrifices, the treatment of Puerto Ricans by the United States government is not unlike Britain's treatment of its American colonies more than 200 years ago -- treatment that sparked a revolution and gave birth to the system of justice and democracy we all enjoy today.

Our founding fathers made sure the people were part of a process that allows every citizen to choose their leaders. However, the people of Puerto Rico do not have a say in electing any of our national leaders. At a time when the U.S. government is seriously discussing the possibility of war with Iraq, they do not even have a voice in the debate.

Since World War I, more than 200,000 Puerto Ricans have fought and continue to serve in the United States armed forces. But as they raise the American flag in victory and anguish in its defeat, the U.S. government does not treat them equally at home, where they can't vote for the commander-in chief who dispatches them into battle.

The U.S. government's disregard for a significant population of Americans who are not permitted to vote in national elections shows once again that the status of Puerto Rico should be re-evaluated. Again, the people of Puerto Rico deserve all the rights afforded to any other U.S. citizen, and they deserve the same political voice as any other state.

Statehood for Puerto Rico would make a difference. It would mean that Puerto Ricans would have a voice and a seat at the table for national debates. They would have two U.S. senators and six members of Congress, based on the current population. They would have the opportunity to be part of the process of selecting our national leaders and determining policy though their voting legislative voice in Washington. And, they would assume full obligations as an integral part of the union.

The time for Congress to act and give Puerto Rico the opportunity to choose its future is at hand.

Kenneth D. McClintock is minority leader in the Senate of Puerto Rico . He and his family live in Sidra.

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