Equal citizenship for Americans living in the country’s territories will be considered by the committee responsible for writing this year’s Republican platform.
A proposal crafted by the Republican Party of the United States Virgin Islands—the GOP state party in the West Indian archipelago purchased from Denmark in 1917—would repudiate the separate-but-unequal legal doctrine that denies the full enjoyment of U.S. citizenship to Americans living in the five territories.
As it stands now, U.S. citizens in American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands have less rights than an American who has lived in Paris for 20 years. Even the children born of illegal immigrants on mainland soil have more rights.
“The Republican Party was founded upon the principle of equality for all,” said Virgin Islands GOP Chairman John Canegata, a black Republican. “It’s time to end this unfortunate legacy of separate-but-unequal, which denigrates Americans in the territories—the Obama administration calls us second-class citizens.”
At the heart of the proposal are the Insular Cases, a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
Despite blatantly racist language invoking “savage,” “uncivilized” and “alien races” as the justification for denying full citizenship, the administration of President Barack Obama—the country’s first black president—continues to use the Insular Cases as the basis of the federal government’s opposition to equality for U.S. citizens in the territories. The racist doctrine came out of the same time as Plessy v. Ferguson, which legalized segregation.
“Americans in the territories are just as loyal and just as patriotic as Americans on the mainland,” said Canegata. “In fact, the territories have the highest per capita military enlistment rates. We die to protect the rights denied to us.”
The full proposal, which was submitted to the Platform Committee, reads as follows: “We fully repudiate the separate-but-unequal doctrine of the Insular Cases that has over the ensuing century created second-class citizens in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We also support full self-determination for each territory, including full voting representation in the House of Representatives.”
The five territories are considered states for purposes of the Republican presidential nomination and internal GOP party governance. However, unlike the District of Columbia, the territories are denied a vote for president in the general election.
This proposal doesn’t call for statehood or even Electoral College votes. It does, however, recognize that each of the territories—and not just Puerto Rico—should be given self-determination.
In Guam, Republican Gov. Eddie Calvo has called a referendum on political status with the options being independence, statehood or free association.
Each U.S. territory and the District of Columbia gets a member of Congress, but the delegates (or resident commissioner in the case of Puerto Rico) only vote in committees.