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Introduction Telling All Americans' Stories
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Representation & Anti-discrimination
Officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, PR is one of the United States' unincorporated territories. People born in PR are American Citizens but lack the full protections of the Constitution. They are represented by a single Congressional Representative who can only vote in Committee. Puerto Rico served as the test case for a number of legal challenges to the Constitution and US Law as the United States expanded its empire at the turn of the twentieth century. PR's status and treatment remains under discussion on the island, in the United States, and among nations.
The Insular Cases, heard before the Supreme Court in the first quarter of the twentieth century, were borne out of the debate over the tax and tariff status for overseas territories and the question of whether people in those territories would be fully considered United States Citizens. The four most significant are generally considered to be Downes v. Bidwell (1901), Dorr v. United States (1904), Balzac v. Porto Rico (1922), and Rassmussen v. United States (1925).
Of the four, Downes (1901) rises among the Insular Cases as perhaps the most significant. Downes was a citrus importer based in NY and had been forced to pay import duties on oranges from PR. In DeLima v. Bidwell (1901), the court had decided that since PR had been acquired by the US normal customs levied on imports from foreign countries no longer applied, but the Foraker act had levied specific customs duties against PR. Downes submitted to the court that under Article I Section 8 of the Constitution the duties were unconstitutional. The court was stunningly divided in this 5-4 decision with five different opinions entered (one majority, with two separate concurrences, and two dissenting). In the majority decision, it was held that the newly annexed territories were not properly part of the United States. It is from this decision that the idea of an "unincorporated territory" was born. The idea is that the United States can be the proprietor of a territory without that territory being fully incorporated into the union and is distinct from corporate incorporation. Arguably, the deeply divided decision in Downes v. Bidwell represented a step back in territorial governance from the supreme court and firmly left this in the hands of Congress going forward.
Dorr (1904) and Balzac (1925) dealt with the right to trial by jury. The former dealt with the Philippines, an unincorporated territory at the time, and the latter with Puerto Rico which is unincorporated today. In both, the court ruled against the plaintiffs who claimed their Sixth Amendment rights had been violated. The Court affirmed that the constitution did not extend "ex proprio vigore" (by its own force) do territories that had not been incorporated into the union, so the plaintiffs had no Sixth Amendment rights to violate.
Rassmussen (1925) dealt with Alaska. In contrast to the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and the other Pacific Territories acquired by the United States in treaty with Spain, Alaska was acquired from Russia with intent to include the territory in the union of states. The territories acquired from Spain according to the Court were acquired for ulterior purposes. Therefore, Alaska was an incorporated territory and its inhabitants were entitled to the full protection of the constitution.
In conversations about hurricane relief, the question of suspending the "Jones Act" is perennial. But what is the Jones Act? Actually, it's two acts.
The Jones-Shafroth Act, or the Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act of 1917, established that all Puerto Ricans were US citizens created the Senate of Puerto Rico, established a bill of rights, and authorized the election of a Resident Commissioner (previously appointed by the President) to a four-year term. The Resident Commissioner is also the non-voting Congressional rep for Puerto Rico.
The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 Section 27 is the Jones Act relevant to hurricane relief. It requires that all goods transported by water between US Ports be carried on US-flag ships, constructed in the US, and crewed by US citizens and permanent residents. In terms of hurricane relief, this requirement means that aid comes at a higher cost since nowadays there are fewer Jones Act compliant ships on the waters.
¡Si, Se Puede!®
Even though the US has a land border with Mexico and with Canada, when we say "The Border" we rarely mean the northern one. Here are a few resources to dip your toes in to understand this immensely complicated issue.
Mural painted by Yreina Cervántez in Los Angeles, California at the First Avenue Bridge. The mural depicts the union leader Dolores Huerta.
Photo by T. Murphy, image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC by 2.0.
One of the aspects at the intersection of gender and race is grammatical gender. This is a complicated discussion with many different perspectives, a few of which are linked below. We have decided to use Latinx on this guide, taking our cues from the UW Latinx Student Union, but will preserve the usages of the various gender neutral/gendered language from the resources we quote.
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