Menendez, Velázquez, Ocasio-Cortez Introduce Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2021

March 18, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the highest-ranking Latino in Congress, alongside U.S. Representatives Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), introduced the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2021, bicameral and bipartisan legislation that would empower Puerto Ricans with an inclusive and democratic process to determine their own political future and relationship with the United States. Under this proposed legislation, a status convention would be created and delegates would be elected to discuss options with federal officials, and therefore create an official, legitimate and comprehensive bilateral conversation on status.

“The more than three million residents of Puerto Rico deserve a comprehensive and fair process to chart their own path forward,” said Sen. Menendez. “That’s why I am proud to be introducing this bicameral and bipartisan legislation alongside my House colleagues,Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. This is the most inclusive approach to addressing the long-overdue question of Puerto Rico’s political status, but most importantly, it offers the people of Puerto Rico a legitimate and democratic process to determine their own future.”​

The idea of an assembly to determine Puerto Rico’s status has been around for more than a century, and has been used in several federal legislative proposals. Rep. Velázquez first introduced the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act in the U.S. House of Representatives back in 2007, and it​was most recently reintroduced last year in the House by both her and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez.

“Over a century ago, the United States invaded Puerto Rico. And ever since the U.S. has pursued its own colonial rule,” said Rep. Velázquez. “While many may disagree about the future of Puerto Rico’s status, we must recognize that the decision should come from those who will be impacted most: the people of Puerto Rico. That is why we are introducing the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act. After over one hundred years of colonial rule, Puerto Ricans would finally have a democratic mechanism to determine their own future. I would like to thank the hundreds of advocacy groups for making this bill possible as well as my House co-lead Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the leader of the Senate version, Senator Bob Menendez.”​

"The principled position — especially for the head of that colonizing power — is to say that people should have a process of self-determination and to not put your thumb on the scale of one direction or another. Our bill outlines a just, democratic, and inclusive process for Puerto Ricans to decide their future,” said Rep. Ocasio-Cortez.

In the Senate, the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act is cosponsored by Sens. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

“For too long, the people of Puerto Rico have faced inadequate assistance and colonial exploitation in the wake of natural disasters, crippling economic crises, and unjust human suffering,” said Sen. Sanders. “The people of Puerto Rico deserve the right to decide their own future. They deserve the right to have their voices be equally heard in governance and elections. I am proud to join my colleagues on this bill that returns the self-determination of that future back to the people of Puerto Rico.”

“The people of Puerto Rico have a right to determine their future status in a fair and democratic process,” said Sen. Wicker. “The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act would provide a comprehensive mechanism for Puerto Rico’s democratically-elected representatives to consider all options for the political future of the island and negotiate a permanent outcome that reflects the will of the people.”​

“Puerto Ricans are American citizens, and they deserve the right to determine their own political future and relationship with the United States – period,” said Sen. Brown.

“It’s up to the people of Puerto Rico to decide what is best for the future of the island they call home, and that’s why I’m proud to co-sponsor the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2021,” said Sen. Gillibrand. “This legislation provides an inclusive and democratic path forward that centers the voices and concerns of those most impacted by Puerto Rico’s political status.”

“Puerto Rico’s path forward should be set by the people of Puerto Rico,” said Sen. Markey. “It’s past has been marred by devastating natural disasters, economic crises, and inadequate support from the federal government. But it’s governance and political future should be one of self-determination, fueled by the voices, needs, and perspectives of its residents. I am proud to co-sponsor this legislation that rightfully partners Puerto Rico’s people with its future.”​

You can find bill text HERE. Below is a summary of the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act.

  1. Creation of Status Convention: The bill proposes creating a “status convention” made up of delegates elected by Puerto Rican voters who would come up with a long-term solution for the island’s territorial status — whether that be statehood, independence, a free association or any option other than the current territorial arrangement.
  2. Delegate election: Once the number of delegates is determined, voters will decide who will serve on the delegation. The delegate election will be publicly financed. In order to keep dark money out of this election, a Puerto Rico Status Convention Public Matching Fund will be established, and it will be subject to the Federal Election Commission. 
  3. Delegate collaboration with a Bilateral Negotiating Commission: A Bilateral Negotiating Commission composed of several members of Congress and the administration will be created to provide advice and consultation to delegates regarding the different status options.
  4. Referendum vote: A referendum vote, where the status options will be presented by the delegates to the people of Puerto Rico, will then be held following the collaboration between the delegates and the Bilateral Negotiating Commission. An allocation of $2.5 million dollars to the Puerto Rico State Commission on Elections will be appropriated to execute said referendum. Additionally, delegates shall carry out an education campaign through traditional paid media related to the referendum under this section. An appropriation of $5 million dollars is authorized to carry out said campaign. 
  5. Congressional Recognition: If the referendum under the Act is approved by the people of Puerto Rico, Congress shall approve a joint resolution to ratify self-determination option as approved in the referendum vote.

In the House, the bill is also cosponsored by Reps. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Al Green (D-Texas), Albio Sires (D-N.J.), Alma Adams (D-N.C.), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Andy Levin (D-Mich.), Anthony Brown (D-Md.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Bobby Scott (D-Va.), G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Danny Davis (D-Ill.), David Scott (D-Ga.), Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), Dwight Evans (D-Penn.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), Lisa Blunt Rochester, (D-Del.), Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), Marc Veasey (D-Texas), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Penn.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), Norma Torres (D-Calif.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), Richard Neal (D-Mass), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), Michael San Nicolas (D-Guam), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Susan Wild (D-Penn.), Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.), Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), Andre Carson (D-Ind.), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-N.M.), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), Dina Titus (D-Nev.), Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), Lou Correa (D-Calif.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Joaquín Castro (D-Texas).

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