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.
“All it requires is an enabling bill with a simple majority in the House and Senate signed by the president admitting the territory into the union. The will of the people should be heard,” he said. “We try to solve issues around the world, yet we have an issue right here.”
When asked if it would be fair for Congress to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. before making Puerto Rico a state, Fortuño said, “We’ve been American citizens for almost 100 years now. So, I think we should finish the job in this case before taking on any other jobs.”
Although statehood is a top priority for Fortuño, he said the U.S. is overdue for immigration reform, in particular an overhaul of the country’s visa system.
“Look at what Canada and other countries are doing to attract researchers and inventors and you name it. We ought to be competing for those minds as well,” he said.
Fortuño also touched upon fiscal issues, comparing Puerto Rico’s economic situation to Detroit and Chicago, which he labeled a “basket case.” PJ Media asked Fortuño how he thinks those cities could be fixed.
“Stop spending more than what comes in. It’s as simple as that. That’s what I did during my tenure and our bond rating went up twice. We slashed expenses by 20 percent and that allowed us also to start cutting taxes,” Fortuño said. “It’s not rocket science. Of course there’s some people that believe government should spend more. Well, I disagree. I believe that the people should have the capacity to spend more. It’s their money. They work hard for it. Let them keep it.”