Fortuño to PJM: Puerto Rico Statehood Before Immigration Reform

WASHINGTON -- Former Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño said Congress and President Obama should make Puerto Rico a state before any immigration bill is signed into law.

“In the case of the Puerto Rican citizens that reside in Puerto Rico, you are dealing with American citizens, natural-born American citizens, so if you’re ever going to deal with illegal immigrants, which is, I’m not saying you should never deal with the issue, but shouldn’t you first deal with your own?” Fortuño told PJ Media after an event on Tuesday evening at George Washington University on Puerto Rico’s economy.

“That’s essentially the question you are asking, and I think it’s a very good question – and indeed I believe this matter requires and demands leadership stemming from Washington to be addressed as soon as possible,” he added.

Fortuño, a Republican, pointed out that Puerto Ricans are able to join the U.S. military but cannot choose their commander in chief in the presidential election.

“It’s morally wrong and it has to be addressed and it has to be resolved one way or another,” he said.

The territory also has a representative in Congress who cannot vote. Puerto Ricans currently pay Social Security and Medicare taxes but not federal income taxes. Puerto Ricans do not qualify for select federal programs but Fortuño stressed they are not looking for a “free lunch.”

“Most importantly, it’s not programs. It’s the right to elect those that are going to make decisions on your behalf. We only have one non-voting congressional member. It makes no sense,” he said, explaining the benefits of statehood.

In 2008, Fortuño was chosen as the first Republican elected governor of Puerto Rico since 1969. He previously served as Puerto Rico’s non-voting member of Congress. Fortuño endorsed Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election and was floated as a potential vice presidential candidate. He lost his re-election bid to Democratic Gov.-elect Alejandro Garcia Padilla in 2012.

In a November 2012 two-part nonbinding referendum, a majority of Puerto Ricans, 54 percent, voted against preserving the territory’s present status. In the second part, 61 percent voted for statehood as an alternative to the current status.

Contrary to what some may believe, Fortuño said making Puerto Rico a state would not require a constitutional amendment.