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Teran: Puerto Rico statehood should be next on congressional docket

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Teran: Puerto Rico statehood should be next on congressional docket

So far, the start of the 117th Congress has, understandably, revolved around providing relief to a nation still reeling from the grip of an unprecedented pandemic. However, as those discussions continue, Congress cannot afford to forget other pressing issues that threaten to leave large swaths of the American public without the voice or representation they deserve.

That is unfortunately the status quo for the more than 3 million American citizens who call Puerto Rico home. While they are officially "citizens" in the eyes of the federal government, they have no voice in selecting who leads the nation, and their sole delegate to the House of Representatives, Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, lacks the ability to vote in favor of or against new legislation on the House floor.

The time is long past due to remedy this and provide Puerto Rico with full statehood. This past November, Puerto Ricans reaffirmed for the third time in less than a decade their support for becoming a state of the Union. In the words of Congresswoman Gonzalez-Colon, Puerto Ricans have resoundingly "rejected the option to remain a possession of the U.S.," and as American citizens their voices should be respected.

This is a position which has garnered support not only from President Joe Biden, but by an increasingly large number of members of Congress, as well. Now Arizona's own congressional delegation is poised to play a key role in driving this initiative forward, as U.S. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ-3) is the head of the House Natural Resources Committee, which will be the starting point for the push for statehood.

Grijalva has long been a champion for the people of Puerto Rico, and he has the opportunity to take up that mantle once again now. Should he schedule a hearing on the matter for the committee, he can provide a platform to move the newly introduced Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act forward.

This proposal is a bipartisan effort, with support from Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi as well as Gonzalez-Colon. Notably, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), has indicated he will introduce a companion bill to the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act in the Senate, which will be a vital step in ensuring this effort is successful.

Given the growing, robust coalition of support for granting Puerto Rico statehood, Grijalva should recognize that the time has come to bring the issue before the House Natural Resources Committee so that we can finally take the next step toward granting Puerto Ricans their full rights as citizens of the United States.

Doing so would also have real, tangible benefits for both Puerto Rico's economy and the nation more broadly. In the years following Hawaii's successful bid for statehood, the state's economy and infrastructure received a boost unlike anything they had experienced previously. Alaska, which joined the union just months before, saw similar benefits for its local economy.

Should we solidify Puerto Rico's position as a state, the new level of certainty about its status would doubtlessly be a boon for the island's economy, giving businesses a new incentive to open up shop there, and would help protect citizens still suffering at the hands of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is a nation founded on the ideal that all of its citizens should be represented and have a voice in its government. By moving forward with the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act and acknowledging the will of Puerto Rican voters, Grijalva and his colleagues in Washington can take the next step toward making that ideal a reality.

Humberto Teran is a Puerto Rican, a Tucson businessman, and a Wildcat.

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