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Separate Sovereignty Is A Serious Choice, Not A Gimmick

By: Herbert W. Brown III, Esq.*

June 17, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE SAN JUAN STAR. All rights reserved. 

Those who advocate "free association" for Puerto Rico based on a supposition voiced by Juan Manuel García Passalacqua (STAR, June 8) may indeed want to take a good hard look at the congressional record which he claims supports his contention that Congress would allow statutory U.S. citizenship to continue in an associated republic.

The 1998 hearing to which García Passalacqua refers was one of five sessions before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources about Puerto Rico's status, held between April 2 and July 15 of that year. This was in response to passage of the Young Bill in the House of Representatives on March 4, 1998. The Senate hearings culminated in a two_day session on H.R. 856, the Senate version of the Young Bill.

García Passalacqua recklessly claims a June 23 hearing on separate sovereignty established that "Congress is willing to grant" sovereignty with dual U.S. citizenship (STAR, June 8). Yet, the Chairman of the Committee states at page 4 of the hearing record that, "... in areas such as citizenship, there is some theoretical flexibility, but probably very little in reality. I seriously doubt that Congress would embrace dual citizenship".

None of the U.S. Senators in attendance at the hearing expressed any direct or indirect support for dual citizenship in a sovereign Puerto Rico. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service testified that dual citizenship for the entire population of a foreign nation "would be literally unprecedented and unlikely to be a choice Congress would make".

Even the witness for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) repudiated the fantasy of universal and perpetual "dual citizenship" for a sovereign Puerto Rico. Instead, the ACLU recognized that children born in a sovereign Puerto Rico would be aliens under U.S. immigration laws, and that the ability to pass U.S. citizenship to children will die off with the generation that acquired it during the colonial period.

Not everyone agrees with the ACLU's view that Congress could not legislate to avoid a situation where virtually everyone in the freely associated republic of Puerto Rico would remain an American citizen for even one generation. At page 9 of the hearing record, Senator Larry Craig, who now chairs the Senate subcommittee with jurisdiction over Puerto Rico status, rejected the ACLU's narrow view of congressional power and proposed an election_of_allegiance process rather than the prolonged ACLU scenario of waiting for a generation to die off before U.S. citizenship is eliminated in a sovereign Puerto Rico.

Even more important than the hearing record is what the U.S. Senate did based on that record. On July 31, 1998, the committee Chairman released a draft bill based on the hearings. Section 1(b)(2) of that proposed bill stated that separate sovereignty is "incompatible with continued U.S. citizenship." The referendum provisions in Section 2(c) of the bill stated, "If a majority of the votes cast are for separate sovereignty", the plan to implement that vote "shall also include proposals to limit prospective acquisition of citizenship by birth in Puerto Rico prior to withdrawal of sovereignty".

This recommendation to end conferral of U.S. citizenship in Puerto Rico while it is still a territory in the event of a vote for separate sovereignty was before 9/11, and before Vieques. Congress listened politely but ignored the wish list of associated republic supporters in 1998, and being ignored may be the most advocates of separate sovereignty with citizenship can expect in the new era of American politics we have helped to shape.

Finally, on September 17, 1998, the U.S. Senate unanimously adopted Senate Resolution 279. It simply states that U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico have "the right to express the views regarding their future political status", but adds that, "...the political status of Puerto Rico can be determined only by the Congress of the United States." Not much comfort there for those who think a local process to produce yet another "best of both worlds" status wish list (including dual citizenship) is a smart strategy.

Sovereign free association is the only non_colonial and non_territorial option other than statehood or independence. Yet, just two_tenths of 1% of voters chose associated republic status in the 1998 plebiscite. Clearly, defenders of the associated republic option have their work cut out for them to win broader support.

It does not help those who sincerely aspire to an independent and sovereign Puerto Rico in free association with the U.S. to allow their cause to be hijacked by those who have capitulated to the colonialist idea that separate sovereignty can only be sold to the people of Puerto Rico if Congress allows statutory U.S. citizenship to continue in an associated republic. That is not a recognizable theory of nationalism, it is just political burlesque.

*Herbert W. Brown III is an attorney in San Juan, President of the Citizens' Educational Foundation-US, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to the decolonization of Puerto Rico based in Washington, D.C. You may access the web site at

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