Lehman Community Disagrees over Puerto Rico’s Bid for Statehood

By Shaiann Frazier

The Capitol of Puerto Rico in Puerta de Tierra, San Juan. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

In June of 2017, 97 percent of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of making the commonwealth of 3.4 million America’s 51st state. While they wait to see whether Congress will pass a statute admitting the new state, many Lehman students with ties to the island remain divided or uncertain about its fate.

Numerous students told the Meridian that they were unaware that Puerto Rico is trying to become a state. Of those who know about the issue, roughly half told the Meridian they think it’s a great idea, while the rest think Puerto Rico should stay as is.

The island has been under U.S. control since 1898, following the Spanish-American War, and has voted against becoming a state four times: first in 1967. In 2012, 54 percent of the vote was in favor of statehood.

Currently, the island is in the middle of an economic crisis. In May of 2013, faced with a $ 73 billion debt, it filed for bankruptcy. According to data released in September of 2017 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment remains high and the poverty level has risen to 46 percent. Since jobs are low in demand and poverty has risen, many have been forced to leave their homeland.

“I’m only for [statehood] if we’re going to actually help…and I’m against it if it’s going to hurt those people even more.” 

— Lehman student life employee, Teddy Hernandez

One Puerto Rican native, Lehman student life employee, Teddy Hernandez, said, “I’m only for [statehood] if we’re going to actually help…and I’m against it if it’s going to hurt those people even more.” If Puerto Rico becomes a state it would gain access to more federally funded programs such as Supplemental Security Income Assistance, student loans, and others.

Some Lehman students questioned whether that leadership is beneficial. Melissa Ruiz, 25, a Lehman student who was born in Puerto Rico but raised in the Bronx said, “As a Puerto Rican I don’t think it should really become a state because the U.S. has had a hand in Puerto Rico’s infrastructure for too long now.”

On the other hand, Mike Garcia, 27, who is a senior at Lehman and from the Dominican Republic, said, “It’s actually a great thing… In that it will help us connect to Puerto Ricans a lot more and it will help us branch out to other Latin American countries and Caribbean islands.”

Those without direct connections to this island also had strong opinions, such as Jerilyn Day-Johnson, administrative assistant to the vice president for the Division of Student Affairs at Lehman who said, “I think it would benefit them economically because Puerto Rico has become quite impoverished over the years.”

Sophomore Andrew Jackson, born in Ghana, was also optimistic, “I think it’s something that’s long overdue,” he said, “Because the U.S has a lot of power over there, so it only makes sense that they get admitted as a state.”