Are Puerto Ricans Citizens? Yes & No

Hurricane Maria has uprooted the lives of millions of Americans, devastating the heart of Puerto Rico emotionally and financially. Puerto Rico was already facing economic instability prior to the Category 4 storm. Puerto Ricans were in the midst of an 11-year recession and are now without electricity, proper healthcare, and bacteria in the water has exposed many to disease.  It’s been a month since Maria struck Puerto Rico and the conditions aren’t expected to recover for at least 6 more months. Because of this, it’s estimated that 100,000 Puerto Ricans are heading to Florida. Puerto Rico is home to nearly 3.5 million people. And even though the number of migrants is only a fraction of their total population, the migration is going to have a significant impact on Florida’s housing, education, and employment. This situation is shedding light on the American perspective of what it means to be a citizen, with relevant arguments connected to Shklar’s “American Citizenship.”

Shklar argues that in order to be considered a citizen and have a certain social standing, one must have the “right to earn, and the right to vote” (Shklar). At the moment, there’s more than a million Puerto Ricans living in Florida. “Puerto Ricans are predicted to overtake Cubans as the state’s largest Hispanic voting bloc by 2020” (Luscombe). Although Puerto Ricans have American Citizenship and can move freely between the island and the U.S. mainland, they are not considered a state; therefore, they cannot vote for congressional elections or the U.S. President; but can vote in party primaries. However, because Puerto Ricans are considered U.S. Citizens and can move freely, their opportunity to earn isn’t directly hindered due to the island’s poor economy. Despite Puerto Rican’s growing presence in the U.S. mainland, we’ve seen many Americans from the U.S. mainland unaware of Puerto Ricans legal American citizenship. Many argue that this led to a lack of empathy and response to hurricane Maria.

I believe that if Shklar were evaluating this situation, she would say that Puerto Ricans are not considered citizens of America. The limitation of their voting power effects their social standing, and their right to earn. In my opinion, I would argue that they have limited citizenship powers. For example, even though Puerto Ricans cannot vote in congressional elections, in Florida, they have already affected the political schema. “Last year, Representative Darren Soto… became the first member of Congress of Puerto Rican descent elected from Florida when he won a Central Florida district with a large Puerto Rican population” (Tackett). In large numbers, Puerto Ricans have more of a political impact which directly influences their social standing and right to earn.

In response to Hurricane Maria, there are people who believe that because Puerto Rico’s frail infrastructure, lack of leadership, and poor economy, the U.S. federal government should limit its aid in the rebuilding effort which will cost billions of dollars. Other argue that it is the U.S.’ obligation to care for its citizens. While Trump awards himself with a 10/10 for federal aid; the mayor of San Juan, gives him a 10/ 100. It’s not surprising that there is speculation on the amount of relief that Puerto Ricans should receive, and how effective the relief has actually been. Regardless of the figures, I think that these discussions alone illuminate the fact that Puerto Ricans are not considered citizens by social standing according to a large part of the U.S. population. By law, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. But Shklar would argue that because there is discord regarding their right to: earn, vote, and be treated like a U.S. born citizen, they are not actually citizens.



Works Cited

Luscombe, Richard. “Arrival of Puerto Ricans Post-Hurricane Maria Could Have Big Impact on Florida.” The Guardian, 12 Oct. 2017,

Tackett, Michael. “An Exodus From Puerto Rico Could Remake Florida Politics.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 6 Oct. 2017,

Shklar, Judith N. American Citizenship: the Quest for Inclusion. Harvard University Press, 2001.

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2 Responses to Are Puerto Ricans Citizens? Yes & No

  1. odessaclugston says:

    Hi Megan! I think you bring up an excellent and powerful point. Puerto Rico is part of the United States, but our nation’s treatment and acknowledgement of the territory could make one believe otherwise. With this in mind, no wonder there have been multiple movements made by the territory for statehood. Whenever I personally think of Puerto Rico, I am genuinely shocked and disturbed that something like this could happen in our nation – until I think of the many disenfranchised voters around the nation. People with former felony convictions, Guam, Samoa, and more are unable to vote simply because of their identities. Only when we fix this problem will we actually guarantee the American dream, and thus full citizenship, for all.

  2. manuelgama21 says:

    Hello Megan, I think you make a really interesting point by connecting Shklar perspective on citizenship with what is going on with Puerto Rico. The social standing for Puerto Ricans has been particularly low during this moments of hardship. While some of this has to do with Donald Trump, I think a similar situation would have happened with any other person as president. The weird status that puerto ricans have of being able to vote in primaries, but not in general elections is anachronistic and should be changed. Only in that way their citizenship, and with that their social standing, will be meaningful.

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