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U.S.' State, Justice Say P.R. Remains a Territory

Departments file brief for Lozada citizenship case

by Robert Friedman

February 17, 1999
©Copyright 1999 The San Juan Star

WASHINGTON - In the strongest Clinton administration message on commonwealth status yet, both the State and Justice departments have maintained that nothing has changed politically in the U.S.-island relationship since 1952 and that "Puerto Rico remains a territory" subject to the full powers of Congress.

"The status of Puerto Rico since the creation of the commonwealth system is that Puerto Rico's status remains the same," attorneys for both agencies said in a brief filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The government attorneys made their argument in a federal court suit brought by Mayagüez attorney Alberto Lozada Colón, who is seeking to renounce his U.S. citizenship.

The independentista attorney filed an appeal after a lower court agreed with the State Department that it does not have to recognize the renunciation because Lozada Colón has refused to register as an alien in Puerto Rico.

Lozada claims he has a right to renounce his citizenship and remain on the island because he had a separate Puerto Rican citizenship and nationality. Administration attorneys said in the appeals brief that such a claim is wrong since "for purposes of citizenship and immigration, Congress determined...that Puerto Rico is part of the United States."

The brief, filed Jan. 19, came to light recently. Oral argument on the appeal has been scheduled for March 19.

The State and Justice briefs mentioned the controversial 1907 Puerto Rico Supreme Court ruling on citizenship that was interpreted by some, including Lozada in his suit, as recognizing a distinct nationality and citizenship for Puerto Ricans apart from their U.S. ties.

But that decision, which upheld the island voting rights of independentista leader Juan Mari Brás even though he renounced his U.S. citizenship, "did not deal with the issue of citizenship in the context of immigration and nationality," according to the brief.

"Instead, the holding (opinion) was limited...It explicitly stated that Puerto Rican citizenship was not national citizenship like that of a country of an independent state," the government attorneys said.

The attorneys indicated that Congress has always held that Puerto Rico was granted no new powers under commonwealth.

They noted that the House report accompanying Public Law 600, which led to the establishment of the commonwealth in 1952, "specifically states that the bill 'would not change Puerto Rico's fundamental political, social and economic relationship with the United States.'"

The brief continued: "Although Congress, through the 1950 act, authorized the process for democratically instituting a local constitutional government in Puerto Rico, Congress retained the authority to legislate with regard to Puerto Rico."

The attorneys maintained that the courts also have indicated that, "Puerto Rico's status in relation to the United States remains the same following the establishment of the commonwealth system."


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