Puerto Rico Status Act

Floor Speech

Date: Dec. 15, 2022
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. GRIJALVA. Madam Speaker, pursuant to House Resolution 1519, I call up the bill (H.R. 8393) to enable the people of Puerto Rico to choose a permanent, nonterritorial, fully self-governing political status for Puerto Rico and to provide for a transition to and the implementation of that permanent, nonterritorial, fully self-governing political status, and for other purposes, and ask for its immediate consideration in the House.

The Clerk read the title of the bill.


Mr. GRIJALVA. 8393.


Mr. GRIJALVA. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Madam Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 8393, legislation I was proud to introduce along with my colleagues, Representatives Nydia Velazquez and Darren Soto, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez- Colon, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, to resolve Puerto Rico's territorial status.

This bill being on the floor today was far from assured. There were many times over the past several weeks when it appeared there wasn't any hope of ever bringing this bill to the floor. In fact, my colleagues and I were negotiating final changes as recently as 24 hours ago.

But with the prodding of Leader Hoyer, we persevered. In spite of opposition to the historic nature of what we are about to accomplish, we persevered.

I commend and congratulate my colleagues who put aside their philosophical differences and worked to arrive at a compromise that we can all support.

Last year, the Natural Resources Committee held two legislative hearings where Puerto Rican-elected government officials, legal and human rights experts, and residents offered testimony and feedback to the committee on the details of those bills.

Those bills that we were discussing were two bills, one dealing primarily with statehood status and the other one seeking a self- determination path. Those two bills were diametrically opposed, and until the negotiations began, little progress was seen moving the question of status forward.

The Puerto Rico Status Act combines important elements of these two bills to present a compromise that also incorporates input from the full range of voices among Puerto Rico's status debate and that would be supported by a majority of Members of Congress. That is the bill that we bring forward today.

We had in-person public hearings, including with over 100 individuals who shared comments and suggestions on the text with the delegation at our public forum in Puerto Rico. In addition to these in-person opportunities for public input, we also published the draft text on POPVOX, an online submission tool that members of the public used to share more than 100 comments, all of which were reviewed and considered while developing the final language.

The Puerto Rico Status Act is, therefore, the product of a participatory and informed process. It incorporates expertise and knowledge from a wide range of stakeholders who have grappled with the dilemma of Puerto Rico's second-class political status for many years.

Finding a resolution to Puerto Rico's political status has been elusive and difficult, and it has been that way for a long time. Recent efforts to resolve the issue began in 1991 with competing bills introduced in the House and Senate, followed by legislation sponsored by our former colleague Don Young in 1998, and finally the Puerto Rico Democracy Act in 2010, sponsored by then-Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner and current Governor Pierluisi.

While each of those previous bills passed the House, as we hope our bill will today, as well, they ultimately failed because they did not possess the necessary elements to end the colonial status of the island through a fair and informed process.

In becoming chair of the Natural Resources Committee, I made the issue of resolving Puerto Rico's political status a priority. It is crucial to me that any proposal from Congress to decolonize Puerto Rico be informed and led by Puerto Ricans.

As a non-Puerto Rican, I cannot claim the experience of Puerto Ricans who have fought for equality and autonomy for their island for so many years. However, as someone of Mexican descent and indigenous ancestry, I feel a sense of solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico in that enduring struggle. We continue to strive for equality and preserve our traditions, as we all do that, and that struggle is a shared experience among marginalized and disenfranchised people in this country and in Puerto Rico.

I am proud to be discussing a piece of legislation, a proposal, today that assists the people of Puerto Rico to directly be involved in determining their political future.

In recent years, we have seen all too painfully that the current colonial territory status is no longer viable and is incapable of providing either adequate political or economic benefits to the people of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico's current status is what impedes its economic development. PROMESA and its financial oversight and management board, the shortcomings of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, and the inadequate Federal response under the previous administration to disasters like Hurricane Maria and the COVID-19 pandemic, these are all products of the current territorial status.

Recent Supreme Court rulings have only further clarified that, as a territory, Puerto Rico lacks the same constitutional protections and rights as in the 50 States.

This bill would finally stop offering the problem as a continued solution and would let the people of Puerto Rico choose a nonterritory, noncolonial status for themselves.

I am extremely grateful to all the political and community leaders, residents, and staff who worked to produce this compromise and contributed to this bill.

I thank House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer; the Governor of Puerto Rico, Pedro Pierluisi; Representatives Velazquez, Soto, and Ocasio- Cortez; and Resident Commissioner Gonzalez-Colon for their leadership and dedication throughout a difficult but very necessary process.


Mr. GRIJALVA. Madam Speaker, the only point of darkness that I can see is the greatest democracy on Earth, the United States of America, and what this bill does is provides some light and consistency to that great democracy by saying you must rid yourself of this colonial legacy. Our great Nation should not be a colonial holder of other countries and other futures. This is an opportunity to break from that and to encourage democracy.

Madam Speaker, I yield 5 minutes to the gentlewoman from New York (Ms. Velazquez). As I indicated earlier, my thanks go to her for her work, as well.


Mr. GRIJALVA. Madam Speaker, I yield an additional 1 minute to the gentlewoman from New York.


Mr. GRIJALVA. Madam Speaker, I yield an additional 30 seconds to the gentlewoman from New York.

Mr. GRIJALVA. Madam Speaker, I yield 1 minute to the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Hoyer).

(Mr. HOYER asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)


Mr. GRIJALVA. Madam Speaker, I yield 5 minutes to the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Soto), someone who, with other colleagues, worked through this difficult process and produced the consensus today.


Mr. GRIJALVA. Madam Speaker, I yield 5 minutes to the gentlewoman from New York (Ms. Ocasio-Cortez), one of the principals that worked on this consensus.


Mr. GRIJALVA. Madam Speaker, I yield 1\1/2\ minutes to the gentlewoman from Florida (Ms. Castor).


Mr. GRIJALVA. Madam Speaker, I yield myself the balance of my time.

This has been a typical debate on Puerto Rico because the question of status and the question of decolonizing our relationship with the people of the island is a question that causes spirited debate. That is okay, but spirited debate with misinformation and hastily drawn conclusions is not the way to debate. We will leave that for another day.

The important point today is that this did not get parachuted at the last minute. This has been a difficult process for all involved, and, I might add, a bipartisan process, to bring one final resolution regardless of where the clock is in terms of this session. This is the time that this was completed.

Madam Speaker, I am proud of this, and I am urging a ``yes'' vote on the legislation.

There are two fundamental differences between ourselves and the minority on this. The intent of the bill is simple: that there be three options, all requiring a deliberate and informed decision by the people of the island.

The current status is not one of those three options. Why? Because the intent of this legislation is to allow the Puerto Rican people not to be colonized and be a colony. That is the decolonization part of the legislation.

The other part, although it has been the habit lately of people wanting not only to predict outcomes of elections but to guarantee outcomes of elections, contrary to that philosophy, this directs that the people of Puerto Rico make the decision and respect that decision.

Our identity as a Nation is built on the values that we are all here to support and respect. It is built on the rule of law. The people of Puerto Rico, as citizens of this Nation, must be extended the respect and the consideration that, since 1898, we have been the overseer of a colony in this country. We must extend them the opportunity to choose their path forward.

That is all it is. It is democratic; it is fair; and it is overdue.

Madam Speaker, I thank all the Members who worked on this--in particular, Representatives Velazquez, Soto, Gonzalez-Colon, and Ocasio-Cortez--for the difficult periods and times they went through in this process, and obviously Majority Leader Hoyer for his insistence, his prodding, and, on occasion, his calmness to get us to this point.

I thank the staff on our committee: chief counsel, Luis Urbina; deputy chief counsel, Margarita Varela; policy aide, Ivan Robles; staff director, David Watkins; and director of our Office of Insular Affairs, Brian Modeste.

I also thank each and every one on Leader Hoyer's staff: Trent Bauserman and Chris Bowman; also Renata Beca-Barragan on Ms. Velazquez's staff; Gabriella Boffelli on Miss Gonzalez-Colon's staff; and Andrea Valdes on Mr. Soto's staff for their hard work and dedication to getting us to this point today. Sometimes that kind of work is underappreciated. I acknowledge their work and thank them.

Madam Speaker, I urge a ``yes'' vote, and I yield back the balance of my time.

Ms. JACKSON LEE. Madam Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 8393-- Puerto Rico Status Act, to provide a plebiscite to be held on November 5th, 2023, to resolve Puerto Rico's political status.

Throughout my decades of service in Congress, I have been an ardent and consistent supporter of the Puerto Rican peoples' right to self- determination.

I have stood alongside our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters on many legislative efforts that would empower them to choose the governance status of their preference, as is their right, both as American citizens and in accordance with their basic human rights.

The population of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is 3.19 million.

Puerto Ricans are the largest group of U.S. citizens with Hispanic heritage, and yet, are treated with only 2nd-class citizenship.

In fact, Puerto Ricans have been the largest body of U.S. citizens which do not enjoy the privileges usually accorded to citizenship, including voting representation in Congress and the right to vote in Presidential elections.

It is a widely held belief in Puerto Rico that the residents of the Commonwealth should be empowered to decide their own political status. The Commonwealth's status is an internal matter among the people of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico has hosted 6 referendums on the topic of statehood, with the most recent being in November 2020. The results of that referendum were that 52.5 percent of the electorate voted for statehood.

It is obvious that the people of Puerto Rico want to change the way they are represented in their own governance and that of the United States Government.

During the referendum in 2012, 54 percent of voters agreed that they did not want to maintain their current method of governance.

The majority of those that did not want to maintain the status quo chose statehood as the alternative that they preferred.

While many of these referendums have been held and have told us what the people of Puerto Rico think, nothing has materialized as a result.

This is why it is essential that Congress allow a plebiscite to Puerto Rico to resolve it's political status.

Voters in Puerto Rico should be provided with the opportunity to choose independence, sovereignty in free association with the United States, or statehood.

It is imperative that this voting process be fair and free of any disinformation, propaganda, or wrongdoing.

All voters should be provided with voting materials in both English and Spanish, and all voting campaigns should be dedicated to providing voters with educational materials related to the plebiscites and potential outcomes.

The Puerto Rico State Elections Commission shall ensure that any educational campaigns are non-partisan in nature and provide voters with accurate information that allow them to vote according to their best interests.

I urge my colleagues to support H.R. 8393--Puerto Rico Status Act, so that the Commonwealth can decide what is best for its people.

All Americans deserve representation, and this bill provides Puerto Ricans the right to make that decision for themselves.