|April 25, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
Puerto Rican Military Volunteers! A Vote for Their Commander-In-Chief?
An irony seen in the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq is the relatively large number of Hispanics in the U.S. armed forces who are lugging weapons, riding tanks, firing artillery pieces and guarding prisoners of war. About 15,000 soldiers of the total U.S. forces deployed in the Gulf for "Operation Iraqi Freedom" are of Hispanic descent. This is in proportion to the total numbers of Hispanics in the military as a whole, which the Department of Defense last year put at 129,254 or 6 percent of the total force, according to Colonel Cynthia Scott-Johnson, a Pentagon spokeswoman. Of these, 22,881 were Puerto Rican.
One ironic aspect to this story is that a significant number of these Hispanic volunteers, about 5%, are not yet citizens of the United States, thereby deprived of many of the privileges enjoyed by most of their fellow soldiers, paramount among which is the right to vote for the President of the United States who, as Commander-in-Chief, is the authority that sent them into battle and, in some cases, to a military hospital or, in a few cases, into body bags and graves.
Aware of the inherent injustice of this situation, the Bush Administration in July 2002, by Executive Order, moved to correct it by putting all resident alien military volunteers ("Green Card" holders) on a fast track to becoming American citizens. Normally the waiting process for permanent residents to become U.S. citizens is from 3 to 5 years. The order allowed anyone on active military duty as of Sept. 11, 2001, to apply immediately for citizenship. One soldier, Cpl. José Ángel Garibay, who was killed in action in Iraq, was granted U.S. citizenship posthumously. He had been an illegal immigrant from Guatemala. In his case, an individualized irony became a gesture of respect and appreciation.
But the greater irony is seen in our fighting men and women who ARE American citizens, but are also denied a vote for their Commander-in-Chief, so long as they reside on the island of Puerto Rico. Among the Hispanic Americans in harms way on Americas battlefields are Puerto Rican men and women in the fight against the Saddam regime and Al Qaeda terrorists. Since 9/11, over 7,000 of our Guardsmen and Reservists have been called to active duty, joining thousands more regular volunteers serving in U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps units. None has the vote for President and none is represented by voting members in the U.S. Congress.
In October of last year, the Hot Button Issue poll asked Herald readers if Puerto Ricans in the Armed Forces deserved the right to vote for President and Congressional representation and 80% of respondents said, "Yes." There is no doubt that opinion among readers is solidly in favor of the idea, perhaps more so now that it can be seen that President Bush can bestow full citizenship rights by the stroke of a pen, at least for service men and women from foreign countries. If he can do it for Guatemalans, Colombians, Dominicans, Filipinos, Haitians and Turks, maybe he should be asked to do it for Puerto Ricans, who are already loyal U.S. citizens.
The partisan wrangling over differing approaches to permanent political status on the island makes Statehood -- and with it full citizenship rights -- a distant possibility at best. In the meantime, tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. military fight and die for a country in which they have no vote and hold a citizenship that is inferior to aliens from other countries with whom they fight side-by-side and whose sacrifice has been recognized by a Presidential Executive Order that speeds their path to American citizenship and subsequently to the ballot box.
Adding to the irony are the considerable efforts of the Calderon Administration to register Puerto Rican voters in New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Texas, Florida and elsewhere to participate in the U.S. political process. The Governor says that the multi-million dollar cost to the island treasury is worth every penny because "it is time for the voices of Puerto Ricans to be heard in Washington." What about the voices of Puerto Ricans in San Juan, Mayaguez, Ponce, Arecibo, Carolina and elsewhere on the island? What about the Puerto Ricans from those places and elsewhere on the island that carry 120 pound packs in Iraq, serve in trauma units on hospital ships in the Persian Gulf and drop into hostile territory from Apache helicopters in Afghanistan?
In the century-plus since the United States annexed Puerto Rico, and in the 86 years since those born on the island became American citizens, over 200,000 Puerto Ricans have worn our countys uniform and followed the flag of the United States into battle. Those who returned safely to the island and many did not never had the chance to participate in the nations political process. Only those who moved to one of the 50 states were able to exercise their right to choose the countrys leaders. Those who remained on the island were limited to local politics, while the rest of the nation and its leaders decided the political fate of the nearly 4-million citizens of the United States of America who reside in Puerto Rico. This weeks poll asks readers to decide if it is time for this to change.
Should President Bush be asked to sign an executive order giving Puerto Rican service men and women the right to vote in national elections? Please vote above!