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U.S. Supreme Court Asked to Review Puerto Ricans'
October 8, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All Rights Reserved.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Jennifer Efron is a U.S. citizen
because she was born in Puerto Rico. But her parents say Puerto
Ricans' U.S. citizenship is not guaranteed, so they're asking
the U.S. Supreme Court to allow the teen-ager to naturalize.
If the Supreme Court agrees to hear Efron's petition, the case
could affect millions of Puerto Rico-born citizens both in this
Caribbean territory and on the U.S. mainland.
Efron's attorneys argue that since Congress granted residents
of Puerto Rico a statutory U.S. citizenship in 1917, it technically
could revoke it -- especially if the island eventually should
That prospect is remote -- less than 5 percent of island voters
have supported independence in recent plebiscites. Still, the
possibility that Puerto Rico's status as a U.S. territory could
change "makes the concern (over citizenship) even greater,"
attorney Nathan Dershowitz said Thursday.
"There's millions of people in the United States who don't
know what their status is," said the New York-based Dershowitz,
whose brother, celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz, also is on Efron's
Puerto Rico has a population of nearly 4 million. At least
2 million others who were born in Puerto Rico live on the U.S.
Officials at the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service
insisted Thursday that Puerto Ricans' citizenship rights are not
"The bottom line is that a person born in Puerto Rico
is a U.S. citizen and does not need to be naturalized," INS
spokesman Bill Strassberger said.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida
and the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the same
way in dismissing lawsuits filed by Efron's father, David Efron.
But in an article last year, former U.S. Attorney General Dick
Thornburgh said that Puerto Ricans' citizenship is "granted
by statute and not fully protected by the U.S. Constitution."
To date, the Supreme Court has not considered any case that
would clarify the issue. Efron said Thursday the Supreme Court
has several months to decide whether to hear his appeal.
As a U.S. commonwealth, Puerto Rico enjoys limited autonomy.
The island's U.S. citizens are eligible for military service and
receive billions of dollars in U.S. federal aid each year, but
they cannot vote for president and have only a non-voting congressional
Supporters of U.S. statehood for Puerto Rico have tried to
sell statehood as the only guarantor of U.S. citizenship.
David Efron, father of 15-year-old Jennifer, is a statehood
advocate, and he acknowledged his petition could have wide-reaching
"This is more than a case. It's a cause," said Efron,
a native of Cuba and San Juan attorney and real estate developer
who became a U.S. naturalized citizen as a child.
Efron said he fears recent frictions in Puerto Rico's relationship
with the United States are signs of a changing political climate
that puts Puerto Ricans' U.S. citizenship more at risk.
The Puerto Rican government has demanded that the U.S. Navy
leave its training ground on the island of Vieques after a fatal
accident in April. And many in the United States were angry that
President Clinton offered clemency in August to 16 pro-independence
Puerto Rican activists affiliated with a militant group blamed
for deadly bombings in New York and Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s.
"With everything that's been going on with the Puerto
Rican prisoners and Vieques, there's a lot of nationalistic sentiment
(among Puerto Ricans)," Efron said. "I don't know what
the U.S.' take is on this.