Chairman Rahall and esteemed members of Congress,
My name is Raúl Vidal, President of the Puerto Rico Statehood Students Association (“PRSSA”), a non-profit student group dedicated to researching and informing youth on Puerto Rico’s status issue, as well as improving student involvement in the democratic process.
For over 110 years, Puerto Rico has been a territory of the United States. For 92 of those years, we have been U.S. Citizens, honorably fighting in every war in defense of our nation’s democracy. Also, as citizens, we have contributed to the arts, sciences, sports, economy, and education. In these contributions, no demographic has been more important than students. Likewise, on the issue of status, no demographic has more to win, or lose, than the students. They, we, are the future public officials, entrepreneurs, and innovators entrusted with the protection and progress of our country.
In the face of such a complex issue, the PRSSA was created in 1979 as a forum for students in Puerto Rico and the continental U.S. to learn about Puerto Rico’s political situation, its territorial condition, relevant jurisprudence, and the framework for admission to the U.S. as a State. The PRSSA also serves as an engine of change; a tool in the search for student involvement in matters that will affect their lives. Across 45 campuses nationwide, students have come together in support of Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination and statehood. We have supported The Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009 since its introduction in the House, rallying support for Puerto Rico’s self-determination. Support for H.R. 2499 has echoed from San Juan to the District of Columbia, and across the 50 states. PRSSA’s members have campaigned for this bill across the blogosphere, on our website: http://www.hr2499.com, through the halls and offices on Capitol Hill, to campuses across the U.S., and in the homes of the residents of Puerto Rico.
The uncertainty of our complex political status continues to have an immense impact on the people of Puerto Rico, and a bloc that bears the full brunt of that negative impact is the student bloc. Under our present political status, the US citizens of Puerto Rico do not enjoy the same federal benefits that the rest of the citizenry enjoys inside the Union. Such inequality causes deep economic restraints for Puerto Rico, causing a brain drain in which many students leave the island in search of equal treatment. It is mostly students that serve in the ranks of our armed forces, but the US citizens of Puerto Rico do not have the right to a seat on the table when determining the fate of these soldiers, or that of our country. Our student veterans also have trouble receiving equal benefits than those in the continental U.S. when pursuing their college degree.
No U.S. citizen should have to leave his or her home inside the US to have the same rights as all other citizens.
Even if students choose to leave Puerto Rico, and seek a home elsewhere, they carry with them some of the impediments of our political status. While every other American student is taught that one day they may become President of the United States, the American students born in Puerto Rico can never aspire to such a position.
The Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009 has the power and foresight to resolve the uncertainties that Puerto Rican students face as to their present, and more importantly, their future. Cong. Pierluisi’s bill would effectively give us students the right to vote on our own future. I venture to say that this empowerment is no less different from when a student chooses to study a career to determine his or her future service to our society. We want to determine our future roles as citizens of this great country. The Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009 grants the youth a chance to voice said preference.
This bill includes every single alternative to Puerto Rico’s political status that is neither territorial nor transitory. The options provided in this bill are representative of every party platform in Puerto Rico, always in accordance with U.S. public policy and in agreement with the Democratic and Republican party platforms regarding this issue.
Opponents of this bill have argued that there is no consensus. They base their findings on the refusal from the leadership of two political parties. However, we believe that beyond consensus, there is an outcry from the people of Puerto Rico – who will ultimately be the beneficiaries of the empowerment of this bill. The most recent poll on whether the people wished to change their political status reflected that an overwhelming majority (74%) of the population wished to see that change. This is real consensus.
Nothing is fairer, or more just, than a democratic process by which the people choose their own fate. This is what we, as students, have always been taught – and like all other members of Puerto Rico’s society, we are eager to take part in that process to put an end to our uncertainty.
Consonant with the policy of Republicans, Democrats, and the democratic wish of the 4 million US citizens of Puerto Rico, we express support for this fair and impartial bill to address a self-determination protocol for Puerto Rico through first-ever federally sanctioned referenda. We hope you will agree that consulting the People of Puerto Rico is fair as a first step in this process, and invite you to join us in improving democracy at home.
Puerto Rico Statehood Students Association, Inc.