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April 6, 1999

Readers View Point
The San Juan Star
Monterrey Industrial Urbanization
5 Acacia Street
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00920-1511

Dear Editor:

        The recent exchange of views on U.S. citizenship in Puerto Rico is precisely the kind of dialogue about citizenship and nationality that the Citizen's Educational Foundation seeks to foster. To carry the discussion forward on its merits a few additional points should be made.

        First, both the 1971 Supreme Court case of Rogers v. Bellei and a March 9, 1989, legal opinion of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) remind us that originally the U.S. Constitution did not define citizenship. Before ratification of the 14th Amendment, all citizenship was statutory and Congressional policy on citizenship was entangled with state citizenship laws. The 14th Amendment established a truly national citizenship so that all persons born or naturalized in any state had national as well as state citizenship.

        The importance of Rogers v. Bellei for Puerto Rico is that it draws a bright line between national citizenship under the 14th Amendment and other forms of citizenship conferred by statute. Puerto Rico may be "in the United States" for purposes of federal statutes enacted at the pleasure of Congress, but as the CRS legal opinion states based on the Bellei case "É Puerto Rico, whatever its exact status and relationship with to the United States is not itself in the United States" for purposes of the 14th Amendment.

        U.S. citizens born in Puerto Rico face a problem similar to that of Mr. Bellei and all persons born outside the states of the union with U.S. statutory citizenship. In the absence of the statute granting our citizenship, we have no constitutional right to that citizenship. If the current statute granting U.S. citizenship to persons born in Puerto Rico (8 U.S.C. 1402) were repealed, relation to Puerto Rican born U.S. citizens would not create a constitutional right to U.S. citizenship for future Puerto Ricans.

        Unlike the foreign born Mr. Bellei, those of us born in Puerto Rico to U.S. citizen parents have no separate or dual nationality to fall back on unless we have acquired it in another country. Thus, Congress would have a heavier burden to demonstrate a compelling purpose to take away citizenship already granted. However, if Congress were to accept Puerto Rico as a separate nation with its own citizenship as some in Puerto Rico propose, the door would be open to modification or even withdrawal of U.S. citizenship for Puerto Ricans.

        As long a Puerto Rico's current status continues, Congress will retain the power to repeal or modify our already less than equal statutory citizenship rights. Until our status is resolved, persons born in Puerto Rico will continue to acquire statutory U.S. citizenship under Title III, Chapter 1 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, along with the foreign born of U.S. parents like Mr. Bellei, those born in Guam or the Canal Zone, and even those born out of wedlock to a U.S. citizen father.

        That is why I agree with the conclusion of the Congressional Research Service that the Bellei case applies to Puerto Rico. It also is why we need to continue rather than curtail this discussion if our people are ever set aside local politics and fully understand the nature and limitations of their U.S. citizenship.




(s) Herbert W. Brown III


Herbert W. Brown III President
Citizens Educational Foundation

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