Puerto Rico’s Governor Wants to Grant Voting Rights Regardless of Legal Status

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Remember that time when the Dominican Republic decided that descendants of Haitian immigrants were not considered citizens? People went all up in arms about a decision that left approximately 210,00 people nationless. Luckily, eight months later, congress gave in to peer pressure by passing a bill that basically rescinded the court’s ruling and granted Dominican-born children of immigrants a path towards citizenship.

381 Kilometers east, and another 8 months later, another Caribbean island–Puerto Rico—sets to tackle immigrations issues in a vastly different manner. This past Tuesday, governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla met with the president of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina (yes, the same guy who signed the naturalization law that promised to handle the Haitian citizenship issue in the D.R.) to sign economic, education, security, and environmental agreements. The icing on the cake, however, is the fact that Padilla announced he would soon be proposing legislation to grant foreigners residing on the island the right to vote. No questions asked.

Non-resident Dominican immigrants, who are estimated to number between 200,000-400,000, are expected to be the most impacted by this proposal.

In a speech given at Mercantil Plaza in Hato Rey, the governor spoke of the strong and long-standing relationship between the two islands, “The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are two nations with a common history, with a common Caribbean soul that today have decided to search for a prosperous future for their people. Today, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic take an ambitious step in the noble space shared by our nations. But we want to go further. Today, we want to topple the barriers that prevent immigrants from contributing everything they can to the economic recovery and social wellbeing of Puerto Rico.”  He also supported other measures to facilitate non-residents’ access to the formal economy.

This all sounds all fine and dandy, but one can’t help but wonder if this is merely a strategy to appeal to a Dominican vote by a governor whose approval rating has been in free fall since his election. Incidentally, when Danilo Medina signed the naturalization bill months ago, some wondered whether the measure would do anything to actually change the relationships between Haitians and Dominicans on the island. I have to pose the same question about Puerto Rican-Dominican relationships on this other island.

Ever the optimist, I hope they do.