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Are Puerto Ricans Immigrants in the U.S.?

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Question: Are Puerto Ricans Immigrants in the U.S.?


No, Puerto Ricans are not immigrants. They are U.S. citizens.

Many Americans get confused over this fact, mistakenly including Puerto Ricans with people from other Caribbean and Latin countries who come to the United States as immigrants and must petition the government for legal immigration status.

Some level of confusion is certainly understandable, because the United States and Puerto Rico have had a confusing relationship over the past century.

A couple quick points of history: the relationship between the nations began in earnest when Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the U.S. government (along with the Philippines) in 1898 as part of the treaty that ended the Spanish-American War.

Nearly two decades later, the threat of involvement in World War I led the U.S. Congress to pass the Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917 that gave Puerto Ricans automatic U.S. citizenship by birth. Many opponents of the act said  Congress was only going passing it to make Puerto Ricans eligible for the military draft to prepare the U.S. Army for the looming conflict in Europe. Many Puerto Ricans went on to serve in that war.

Since then, Puerto Ricans have had the right to U.S. citizenship, despite some contradictions and caveats.

For example, Puerto Ricans are prohibited from voting in the U.S. presidential elections, unless they have established residency in the United States.

In 1947, Congress granted Puerto Rico the right to elect its own governor and exist as a U.S.

territory with commonwealth status.  As Americans, Puerto Ricans use the U.S. dollar as the island’s currency and they serve proudly in the U.S. armed forces, with more than 10,000 in uniform as of 2013. The American flag even flies over the Puerto Rico capitol in San Juan.

However, you’ve probably noticed that Puerto Rico fields its own team for the Olympics and enters its own contestants in Miss Universe beauty pageants.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the number of Puerto Ricans living in the United States at about 5 million as of 2013. New York has the largest population at just over 1 million, with Florida growing fast and approaching 900,000. The total number of Puerto Ricans living in the United States has almost doubled since 1990.

Some prominent Puerto Rican-Americans include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, recording artist Jennifer Lopez, National Basketball Association star Carmelo Anthony, actor Benicio del Torro, and a long list of Major League baseball players, including Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals,  New York Yankee Bernie Williams and Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, Puerto Ricans are the second-largest population of Hispanic origin living in the United States, accounting for 9.5% of the U.S. Hispanic population in 2011. Mexicans, the nation’s largest Hispanic origin group, constituted 33.5 million, or 64.6%, of the Hispanic population in 2011.

According to the Pew Center, about 82% of Puerto Ricans living in the United States are fluent in English. “Puerto Ricans have higher levels of education than the Hispanic population overall but lower levels than the U.S. population overall. Some 16% of Puerto Ricans ages 25 and older—compared with 13% of all U.S. Hispanics and 29% among the U.S. population—have obtained at least a bachelor’s degree,” according to Pew researchers.

Puerto Ricans are fond of referring to themselves as boricuas, in homage to the indigenous people’s name for the island. They are not, however, fond of being called U.S. immigrants. They are U.S. citizens, except for the voting restriction, as American as anyone born in Nebraska, Mississippi or Vermont.  
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