Why Isn't Puerto Rico a State?

Puerto Rico is not a state but an unincorporated territory in the United States.

Is Puerto Rico a State? Will it become a State?

Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States located in the Caribbean Sea. Also known as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the island has its capital in San Juan. The language predominantly used is Spanish with English as the other official language. According to the 2000 census, Puerto Rico had a population of 3.8 million people which fell to 3.7 million people in 2010 due to increasing rates of immigration and a decreasing birth rate. Christianity is the dominant religion with the Roman Catholicism accounting for over 69% of the total population. While Puerto Rican citizens are formally citizens of the United States, Puerto Rico is not identified as a state but as a territory, meaning citizens of Puerto Rico cannot vote in US federal elections and are not represented in congress.


According to historians and archeologists, the original inhabitants of Puerto Rico were known as the Ortoiroid people who engaged in fishing and hunting. These Ortoiroid people are believed to have arrived on the island before 250 BC. In the 11th century, the Taino culture was the most dominant in the island. The people who practiced the culture named the island as “Boriken” which means “the land of the noble Lord.” Christopher Columbus arrived at its shores in November 1493. Puerto Rico became a Spanish colony in 1520.

United States Territory

During the 1898 American-Spanish war, the island was handed over to become a US territory. Puerto Ricans, however, did not receive US citizenship until the Jones Act of 1917. The 1900 Forker Act provided that the island had a democratically elected House of Representatives but was governed by a governor appointed by the United States and adopted all US laws with the exception of the Internal Revenue Laws. However, after years of lobbying and protests the United States government granted the Puerto Ricans the democratic right to elect their own governor in 1947. In 1950 the United States issued a referendum in Puerto Rico and in 1952 the referendum was ratified allowing for Puerto Rico to draft its own constitution and also gave it limited autonomy. However, since Puerto Rico is yet to be identified as a US state, the citizens still cannot vote in presidential elections.

Current Status

The US congress still holds control over the island while the island’s representative to the congress has limited voting powers. This issue has profound effects on the island whose residents experience unequal treatment compared to US citizens. A referendum was held in 2012 where the majority of Puerto Ricans voted for their island to be adopted as the 51st state of the United States. The plebiscite was however met by criticism by the governor and members of the legislature. Another plebiscite scheduled to be held on June, 2017 where the options will be either statehood or nationhood. The Puerto Ricans are optimistic that this referendum will finally allow them to have an identity.

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