A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, a natural disaster which has devastated the island and left many of its 3.4 million inhabitants without water, food, gas, electricity, access to medication, or other basic needs. Officials have described “apocalyptic” conditions, which are only expected to get worse, and Puerto Rico’s governor Ricardo Rosselló has deemed Maria the biggest catastrophe in the island’s history.
So why aren’t we seeing a larger public and political response to this disaster?
It may be, in part, because nearly half of all Americans don’t actually know that Puerto Ricans are their fellow citizens. A new Morning Consult poll of 2,200 American adults revealed that 46% were unaware that people born in Puerto Rico, a US commonwealth, are citizens.
Alarmingly, the youngest group of adults polled were the most uninformed. Just 37% of people ages 18-29 knew that island-born boris are U.S. citizens.
These findings don’t just point to the sad state of affairs of the U.S. education system. They can also have a tangible effect on public and political support for aid to the island. Morning Consult found that those who were informed about the citizenship status of Puerto Ricans were much more likely to express support for additional aid to the island.
Certainly, the plight of Puerto Ricans merits coverage and action regardless of their citizenship status – they are fellow human beings first and foremost. But they have all the same rights as U.S. citizens on the mainland and should be treated as such.