Almost 100 years: the Jones Act and U.S. citizenship for Puerto Ricans

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By Centro Staff

Last Thursday and Friday, October 15th and 16th, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies held a symposium in anticipation of the centennial of the Jones Act, and the granting of U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans. The symposium hosted a collection of the top legal and academic scholars on the subject of Puerto Rican citizenship, including the two keynote speakers presented below. Judge Juan Torruella (First Circuit Court of Appeals) and Professor Rogers Smith (University of Pennsylvania) considered the implications of the Jones Act in light of current and historical developments. Videos of their addresses are presented here—along with their abstracts.

The symposium was the first event in a larger project Centro is undertaking to explore themes of citizenship in conjunction with the Jones Act centenary. By 2017, CENTRO Journal will dedicate an issue to expanded versions of the papers presented at the symposium. In the meantime, we invite Centro Voices readers to watch the presentations from Judge Torruella and Professor Smith, and as always to engage with the topic on Centro’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

"To Be or Not to Be: Puerto Ricans and their Illusory U.S. Citizenship"
by the Honorable Juan R. Torruella

Are Puerto Ricans born in Puerto Rico, especially those who continue to reside in Puerto Rico, truly U.S. citizens in the full constitutional and legal sense? Judge Torruella considers this question in light of Puerto Rico’s history under first Spain and then the United States and the nature of the citizenship conferred on Puerto Ricans by each. He will draw upon a wide array of sources, from Dred Scott v. Sandford to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and take aim at diverse targets, from President-cum-Chief Justice Taft and Yale scholars of yore to the current U.S. Congress, along the way to his provocative conclusion.

"The Unresolved Constitutional Issues of Puerto Rican Citizenship"
by Professor Rogers Smith

For largely dishonorable reasons, the Jones Act created a form of U.S. citizenship for Puerto Ricans that is constitutionally ‘second-class’ in all of citizenship’s most important legal dimensions: how citizenship is acquired; the political and civil rights it confers; and how it can be renounced. Puerto Ricans lack 14th Amendment birthright citizenship; they lack federal voting rights and have curtailed Bill of Rights protections; and they cannot expatriate themselves without giving up Puerto Rican residency. Legal and political contests over these limitations have only intensified over the last quarter century. They will not end until the quasi-colonial status of Puerto Rico is ended through statehood or independence, a decision best made by Puerto Ricans themselves. The paper further compares the status of citizenship in the different American territories with each other and with some brief comparisons to French territories.

© Center for Puerto Rican Studies. Published in Centro Voices on 23 October 2015.

Centro Voices (ISSN: 2379-3864).
The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of Centro Voices, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies or Hunter College, CUNY.