Can a Puerto Rican run for President of the US?


On March 2nd, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones Act,  and Puerto Ricans were recognized as legal citizens of the United States of America, although with a peculiar form of citizenship circumscribed in a number of ways. They enjoy the freedom to live, work, and study in any part of the United States without legal restrictions. Nevertheless, they may not vote in presidential elections unless they are registered residents in one of the fifty states. Island residents pay the US social security tax but not the federal income tax. Although Puerto Ricans pay social security tax, they are excluded from Supplemental Security income and receive reduce Medicaid funding.  In addition to this, the island has, like the District of Columbia, a nonvoting delegate in the U.S. Congress, who partakes in the regular affairs of Congress, although his vote may not determine the result of any issue.

But probably the BIGGEST difference between mainlanders and Puerto Ricans is that the US Congress can change, amend or terminate the benefit of American Citizenship to future Puerto Rican children born on the island (cf. territory clause: Article IV, section 3, clause 2).  This distinction comes from the fact that there are different types of U.S. citizenship. In the case of Puerto Rico, the Jones Act provided its people with statutory, and not constitutional citizenship. Statutory citizenship means that a person’s citizenship requires a law or laws to define it (i.e. the case of a federal territory -Puerto Rico- that isn’t part of any state of the Union) whereas constitutional citizenship is automatically conferred on people born in any of the fifty states. It should be highlighted that a congressional decision wouldn’t revoke the citizenship of people who already have it.

So, due to the fact that the statutory citizenship allows the U.S. Congress to treat Puerto Ricans as a separate and different category of U.S. citizen, Can an island-born Puerto Rican  run for President of the United States – without of course a constitutional amendment?

The answer is … I really don’t know. But I’d love to ask this question to the Supreme Court of the United States. It would seem that a citizen via statute is constitutionally ineligible to serve as Commander-in-Chief or even Vice-President.

Let’s see..

According to the Constitution of the United States, Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 :

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

The meaning of this “natural born” has been the subject of controversy because it isn’t clearly defined anywhere in the Constitution. Who can forget for example the detailed examination of Senator John McCain’s eligibility to be president? McCain was born in the unincorporated Panama Canal Zone and his parents were both American citizens. But apparently this wasn’t enough to satisfy the constitutional requirements as he wasn’t considered to be a “natural born”. Nevertheless, in April 2008 the Senate approved a resolution declaring that McCain was eligible to be president.

True, Puerto Rico is an incorporated territory, and it wasn’t made part of the United States in the fullest sense. Plus, a series of early 20th century decisions known as the Insular Cases, ruled that unincorporated territories acquired by the United States weren’t part of the nation for constitutional purposes. But if McCain was eligible, why a Puerto Rican wouldn’t be? If someone knows the answer to this enigma, I would be more than pleased to hear it.

Status of persons born in Puerto Rico

Legislation/action

Dates

Type of citizen

Military 
Occupation

July 
25, 1898‐April
 11,
 1899

Spanish 
Nationals

Ratification
 of 
Treaty
 of
 Paris

April
 11,
 1899‐Present

U.S. 
Nationals

Foraker 
Act
 of
 1900

May
1,
1900‐Present

Puerto
 Rican
 Citizenship

Jones
 Act 
of 
1917

March
2,
1917‐
1950

Parental
 or
 Jus 
Sanguinis
 Citizenship

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9 Responses to Can a Puerto Rican run for President of the US?

  1. domingo arong says:

    I am a Filipino born during the American territorial period in our country, the Philippines, and I think I have the answer to your question which, of course, is altogether different from the U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark reading of the Citizenship Clause. It’s rather long (about 2,000 words), but I can email it to you. Thanks.

    • Ratonet says:

      Hi. Many thanks for your comment on my blog and for taking the time to read this entry. I would be more than glad to finally have the answer to that question, so if you could email me the document, that would be awesome (e-mail erased).
      Thanks again.

      • Ratonet says:

        Hello Domingo,

        First of all thank you very much for the document you mailed me.
        I think I’ve got the final answer: legally speaking, a Puerto Rican can be elected President of the United States.

        According to a report by the CRS issued in early 2000, people from the US Virgin Islands, Guam and Puerto Rico are defined as “natural citizens” and therefore stick to the constitutional requirements for becoming President of the Union.

        Cf. COLEMAN, Kevin J., NEALE, Thomas H., et CANTOR, Joseph E. Presidential Elections in the United States: A Primer. CRS Report for Congress, April 17th 2000.

        http://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/RL30527.pdf

        EXTRACT FROM THE DOCUMENT:

        Citizens born in Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are legally defined as
        “natural born” citizens, and are, therefore, also eligible to be elected President, provided they
        meet qualifications of age and 14 years residence within the United States. Residence in
        Puerto Rico and U.S. territories and possessions does not qualify as residence within the
        UnitedStatesforthese purposes. [U.S. Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service,
        U.S. Insular Areas and Their Political Development, by Andorra Bruno and Garrine P.
        Laney, CRS Report 96-578GOV (Washington: Jun. 17, 1996), pp. 9, 21, 33].

    • Ratonet says:

      Hello Domingo,

      First of all thank you very much for the document you mailed me.
      I think I’ve got the final answer: legally speaking, a Puerto Rican can be elected President of the United States.

      According to a report by the CRS issued in early 2000, people from the US Virgin Islands, Guam and Puerto Rico are defined as “natural citizens” and therefore stick to the constitutional requirements for becoming President of the Union.

      Cf. COLEMAN, Kevin J., NEALE, Thomas H., et CANTOR, Joseph E. Presidential Elections in the United States: A Primer. CRS Report for Congress, April 17th 2000.

      http://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/RL30527.pdf

      EXTRACT FROM THE DOCUMENT:

      Citizens born in Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are legally defined as
      “natural born” citizens, and are, therefore, also eligible to be elected President, provided they
      meet qualifications of age and 14 years residence within the United States. Residence in
      Puerto Rico and U.S. territories and possessions does not qualify as residence within the
      UnitedStatesforthese purposes. [U.S. Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service,
      U.S. Insular Areas and Their Political Development, by Andorra Bruno and Garrine P.
      Laney, CRS Report 96-578GOV (Washington: Jun. 17, 1996), pp. 9, 21, 33].

  2. Luis says:

    “The conditions supporting this conclusion include the statutory citizenship status of the inhabitants of Puerto Rico which is not equal, full, permanent, irrevocable citizenship protected by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the lack of voting representation in Congress as the legislative body which determines the form of government and laws under which the people of the territory live, the lack of voting rights in elections for President and Vice President, rights of equal protection and due process which have a different application and effect in the territory than in the rest of the Nation, and retention by Congress of the authority (unimpaired by the non-self-executing undertakings regarding the right of self-determination) to determine the disposition of the territory”.

    Source: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/cpquery/?&r_n=hr131p1.105&dbname=cp105&&sel=TOC_37236&

  3. Ratonet says:

    Thanks Luis for your comments. In the same article, I believe this is quite interesting and might give us a clue:

    “Puerto Rico’s continuing status as an “unincorporated territory,” subject to Congress’s plenary power, makes these limitations possible. As commonly interpreted, the Court’s territorial incorporation doctrine provides that, unlike the territories the United States annexed, “incorporated,” and later admitted into the Union as states, the island is part of the United States for some purposes but not for others.

    Consequently, residents of Puerto Rico are only entitled to “fundamental” constitutional protections.
    In practice, this has led to an ad hoc, case-by-case determination by the Court of which constitutional provisions are applicable in Puerto Rico and other unincorporated territories.”

  4. Ratonet says:

    I would specifically highlight : “In practice, this has led to an ad hoc, case-by-case determination by the Court of which constitutional provisions are applicable in Puerto Rico and other unincorporated territories”

  5. Ratonet says:

    “The definition and conferral of U.S. citizenship for persons born in Puerto Rico (…) was not part of the process for establishment of the “Commonwealth of Puerto Rico” structure of constitutional government. U.S. citizenship was conferred by separate statute and was not subject to consent or approval in the process described in section 1 of P.L. 81-600 (48 U.S.C.. §731b) as being “in the nature of a compact.” The reference to U.S. citizenship in the Preamble to the Puerto Rico Constitution does not alter the legal nature of citizenship for Puerto Ricans. Nor did approval of the Puerto Rican constitution convert statutory U.S. citizenship conferred under the Territory Clause into the same constitutionally guaranteed citizenship arising from birth in a State of the Union”.

    Cf. THORNBURGH, Richard. Puerto Rican Separatism and United States Federalism. Foreign in a domestic sense–Puerto Rico, American Expansion, and the Constitution. Duke University Press, Durham, 2001.

  6. Ratonet says:

    I recently found this (topic: can a puerto rican become president of the united states?) :

    Does a “statutory” Puerto Rican American citizen qualify under the U.S. Constitution to be President of the United States?

    http://www.puertorico-herald.org/issues/2003/vol7n38/Poll0738-en.html

    September 19, 2003
    Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
    Can A Puerto Rican Become President Of The United States?

    The answer to this broad question is, “maybe yes and maybe no.” As “statutory citizens,” the nearly four million Americans born in Puerto Rico might not be considered “natural born,” a Constitutional requirement to become President of the United States. Let’s look at a few cases!

    CASE # 1

    Jose Rodriguez, born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, moves with his parents to New Jersey at the age of two. After arriving in their new home, his brother, Manuel, is born. Forty years later, both are prominent politicians and aspire to run for the Presidency. Manuel, as a “natural born” American citizen qualifies. Jose, having been born in Puerto Rico, holds “statutory American citizenship,” deriving from an act of the U.S. Congress in 1917.

    QUESTION: Does Jose qualify to be elected President of the United States?

    ANSWER: Maybe yes and maybe no!

    Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution states “No Person except a “natural born” Citizen, or a citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of this Constitution shall be eligible to the Office of President; …” Constitutional scholars can point to no definitive case law after 1790, the year of the Constitution’s enactment, establishing the eligibility of Americans with “statutory” citizenship to hold the office of President.

    Obviously the Constitution’s framers wished to exclude newly arrived immigrants admitted to citizenship in the newly formed republic, especially their recent enemies. They had just thrown off an English king and did not wish to see a British president. To presently exclude American citizens born in U.S. territories, however, is considered by most Constitutional scholars to be a stretch.

    CASE # 2

    Sgt. Robert Douglas and his wife Wendy, both “natural born” American citizens, give birth to a daughter, Jennifer, while stationed at Ft. Buchanan in Puerto Rico. Five months after the girl’s birth, the family rotates back to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where Jennifer grows up. Forty years later, she aspires to become the third female President of the United States.

    QUESTION: Is Jennifer a “natural born” American citizen and therefore eligible to be elected to the highest office in the land, even though she was born on the island of Puerto Rico?

    ANSWER: Maybe yes and maybe no!

    Amendment XIV, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution states “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

    Even though Jennifer was born in Puerto Rico, her parents were not “resident” there. Usually members of the U.S. military retain residency in their “home of record,” in the case of the Douglas family, Kansas. However, even if she was to be considered “Puerto Rican born” her citizenship would unlikely be considered “statutory.”

    Before the passage of the Panama Canal Treaties in 1977, the Panama Canal Zone had been a U.S. possession, with some families of “natural born” American citizens permanently residing there for generations. In order to protect the “natural born,” status of anyone born in the Zone to at least one citizen-parent, Congress passed 8 USC 1403. Experts cite other legislation providing the same “protection” to the offspring of “natural born” American citizens in the U.S. territories.

    CASE # 3

    The year is 2010. Puerto Rico has become a state of the Union. Its senior Member in the U.S. Senate, Pablo Aponte, a native of Arecibo, enters the race for the Presidency. One of his opponents makes a campaign issue of the fact that Sen. Aponte is not qualified to become President, since he is not a “natural born” American citizen.

    QUESTION: Is Sen. Aponte’s opponent correct?

    ANSWER: Maybe yes and maybe no!

    No one seems clear on this issue. The Congressional offices of Hawaii and Alaska, both former U.S. territories turned states, have no definitive answer and, as yet, no one from those new states has made a run for the Presidency. In 1964 the late Sen. Barry Goldwater accepted the nomination of the Republican Party to run against incumbent President Lyndon Johnson. Goldwater was born near Phoenix in 1909, three years before the Arizona territory was admitted to statehood. The nature of his citizenship was never raised seriously as an issue and, had he won the election, all assume that he would have been seated.

    Perhaps Sen. Aponte would enjoy the same consideration.

    Interest in this question was raised earlier this month when the New York Times published an editorial in favor of current efforts by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Congressman Vic Snyder (D-AR) to rid the Constitution of the requirement that only “natural born” citizens be eligible to be seated as President of the United States.

    The editorial points out that, since the writing of the Constitution, the U.S. has become a nation of immigrants, with some living in residence for decades. These individuals, by their loyalty and contributions to the nation, clearly deserve to be considered eligible to become President, including some 700 immigrants whose valor in combat warranted the bestowal of the nation’s highest citation, the Congressional Medal of Honor. Mr. Hatch’s amendment would make anyone who has been a citizen for 20 years, and a resident for 14, eligible for the presidency, while Mr. Snyder’s would require a 35-year waiting period.

    The Hatch-Snyder amendment makes no mention of Presidential eligibility for the many Americans whose citizenship is “statutory,” and maybe it should. The loyalty and contribution to the nation of most Puerto Ricans is unassailable. Four “statutory” American citizens from Puerto Rico were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor while fighting in the nation’s wars. Puerto Ricans, such as Dr. Antonia Novello from Fajardo could be the nation’s Surgeon General but she might not be eligible for the Presidency. Orlando Figueroa, from Mayaguez, can run NASA’s Mars program but might not qualify to sit behind the President’s desk.

    Become a Constitutional expert! You answer the question. Does a “statutory” Puerto Rican American citizen qualify under the U.S. Constitution to be President of the United States?

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