Puerto Rico, not immigration, is GOP’s best hope for appeal to Latino voters

     A U.S. Army honor guardsman salutes the Puerto Rican and U.S. flags during the inaugural ceremony for governor-elect Alejandro Garcia Padilla, at the Capitol building in San Juan on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. Puerto Ricans endorsed U.S. statehood for the Caribbean island — and in the same election ousted pro-statehood governor Luis Fortuno. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)

    A U.S. Army honor guardsman salutes the Puerto Rican and U.S. flags during the inaugural ceremony for governor-elect Alejandro Garcia Padilla, at the Capitol building in San Juan on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. Puerto Ricans endorsed U.S. statehood for the Caribbean island — and in the same election ousted pro-statehood governor Luis Fortuno. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)

    If you believe what you see, hear and read in the mainstream media, you might think the GOP has a problem with Latino outreach and bipartisanship. We are told the only solution is to swallow the gigantic immigration bill with no questions asked. Yet if this problem really existed, is there a better solution? This solution would be good for the country, reinforces Republican principles and has bi-partisan support. The answer is yes. The issue is statehood for Puerto Rico.

    Puerto Rico is currently a territory, falling under U.S. sovereignty. In a 2012 plebiscite, Puerto Ricans rejected their current territorial status by a clear majority and also chose statehood over independence by a majority. (It should be noted that, since maintaining territorial status was not a option, some voters boycotted the second question.)

    Ronald Reagan, as a presidential candidate, supported the idea that, if a majority of Puerto Ricans supported statehood, he would as well. In 1982, he reaffirmed his support stating that he was “still confident in my belief that statehood would benefit both the people of Puerto Rico and their fellow American citizens in the 50 States.”

    George H.W. Bush was of the same opinion. Conservative activist Grover Norquist as well as various Republican members of Congress also support statehood. Beyond the endorsement of such Republican leaders, statehood for Puerto Rico represents core GOP values that benefit the whole country.

    Call for statehood reflects Republican values

    The first value is liberty. Congress and the president exercise ultimate control over Puerto Rican affairs, Puerto Ricans themselves, U.S. citizens, have no voice in federal affairs because of the non-voting status of their Congressional representative and their inability to vote in presidential elections.

    Puerto Rico’s corporations enjoy tax benefits and its citizens are exempted from federal taxes, a benefit not given to citizens of the states. This situation creates inequality before the law where citizens of Puerto Rico enjoy advantages and disadvantages that are not shared with citizens of the 50 states. Such inequality undermines liberty.

    The second value is economic stability. Puerto Rican bonds have become high risk. These bonds have tax-free status like the municipal bonds of the 50 states. Yet, unlike the state municipal bonds, Puerto Rican bonds are exempt from taxes by the federal government and all 50 states. This status has created a high demand for the bonds and therefore lowered borrowing costs for Puerto Rico. This incentive to borrow coupled with the lack of the federal funding that the states enjoy has put Puerto Rico into a precarious financial situation. Statehood would assist in rectifying the island’s finances by discouraging borrowing and providing another source of funding.

    The final value is U.S. leadership. By allowing for statehood for Puerto Rico, the U.S. reinforces its commitment to retaining leadership in Latin America and the Caribbean. The U.S. would be symbolically expanding into the Caribbean in a peaceful way. At the same time, the U.S. would be demonstrating its good intentions. We would be providing a former colony, as Puerto Rico once was, the full rights, responsibilities and sovereignty of other states and their citizens.

    Republican support for Puerto Rican statehood is a rare opportunity. It is a position that is both good for the country and strengthens the party. Most of all, it demonstrates how Republican values can be of benefit to all people.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.