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AOC-Velázquez Puerto Rico bill sets needed path to decolonization, progressives say



A group of progressive organizations are pushing for passage of a bill they say gives Puerto Ricans a voice on the question of the island’s future status and its relationship with the U.S.

The push aims to present an alternative to pro-statehood legislation introduced Tuesday by two Puerto Rican members of Congress.

In a letter sent Thursday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., advocates from more than 80 grassroots organizations across 16 states and Puerto Rico urged prioritizing the passage of the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2020.

The progressive groups argue that unlike the bill introduced on Tuesday by Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., and Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez, Puerto Rico’s nonvoting member of Congress and a Republican, the bill introduced last year by New York Democratic Reps. Nydia Velázquez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would ensure that Puerto Ricans have access to “a legitimate, accountable and inclusive process for decolonization and self-determination.”

The bill by Ocasio-Cortez and Velázquez initially proposed creating a “status convention” made up of delegates elected by Puerto Rican voters who would come up with a long-term solution for the island’s territorial status — whether it be statehood, independence, a free association or any option other than the current territorial arrangement.

“As the United States attempts to right so many injustices, it must also shed its colonial legacy by supporting the leadership and decision-making of Puerto Ricans,” Erica González, director of Power 4 Puerto Rico, said in a statement, adding that the framework stated in the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act “leaves no Puerto Rican behind in a decolonization process that must be conducted with the utmost seriousness, integrity and detail that the Island deserves.” 

Velázquez and Ocasio-Cortez are expected to reintroduce their bill in the House sometime this year in an effort to garner more support in Congress. The original bill was introduced last year with 20 Democratic co-sponsors.

“This Congress and the Biden-Harris administration have an historic opportunity to take a serious look at the impact colonialism has had on Puerto Rico and change course,” Julio López Varona, director of community dignity campaigns at the Center for Popular Democracy, said in a statement.

The Puerto Rico Statehood Admissions Act, introduced Tuesday by Soto and González, aims to create a framework to make the island a state, “including a presidential proclamation upon its passage, a ratification vote, the election of U.S. senators and representatives and the continuity of laws, government, and obligations,” Soto said at a news conference.

The statehood bill has the support of at least 49 House members, 13 Republicans and 36 Democrats, according to González. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., is expected to eventually introduce a version of the bill in the Senate.

The legislation proposed by Soto and González follows a nonbinding referendum that took place in Puerto Rico last November. It directly asked voters whether Puerto Rico should immediately be admitted as a state. With nearly 55 percent voter turnout, about 53 percent of Puerto Ricans who voted favored statehood while 47 percent rejected it, according to Puerto Rico’s Elections Commission.

Puerto Rico has held a few other referendums in recent years.

In a 2017 plebiscite, 97 percent of those who voted favored statehood but opposition parties boycotted the vote, resulting in a record low turnout of 23 percent. In another 2012 plebiscite, 61 percent of voters sided with statehood, but that referendum was also mired in controversy over the way the choices for voters were phrased.

In hand with these plebiscites, similar versions of the Soto-Gonzalez statehood bill have unsuccessfully been introduced in Congress since at least 2015.

Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, a long-time statehood advocate, said in a statement in Spanish on Thursday that the latest Soto-Gonzalez statehood bill “is the answer to that mandate,” referring to the previous referendums.

“It is time for Congress to act, we have been American citizens for over 100 years and the time has come for us to have equality,” Pierluisi said. “Those of us who aspire to equality will never consent to the discrimination and inequality that we have when, despite being American citizens, just because we live in Puerto Rico, we do not have the same rights as those who reside in the states.”

Three former Puerto Rico governors who support the island’s current territorial status blasted Pierluisi and other pro-statehood Puerto Ricans for framing the statehood debate as a civil rights issue in an effort to seek support from U.S. liberals, as they stated in a letter sent to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris last month.

“Liberals must view the issue of Puerto Rico status, not as a civil rights issue affecting a group within that debate, but as a self-determination issue where all the stakeholders are entitled to a fair process. That is what has been lacking,” former Govs. Sila María Calderón, Anibal Acevedo Vilá and Alejandro García Padilla said in the letter.

Black Lives Matter Greater New York is among the groups that co-signed the letter to Schumer and Pelosi supporting Velázquez and Ocasio-Cortez’s bill.

“Since the transatlantic slave trade, Black people across the diaspora remain shackled by systemic oppression. It is our duty to denounce the imperialism through which the U.S. holds and treats island nations under its colonial rule,” Chivona Newsome, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Greater New York, said in a statement. “Congress has the power to stop colonization. Failure to support the Puerto Rico Self Determination Act by any member is to uphold white supremacy.” 

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On immigration, the confusion is coming from inside the White House



President Joe Biden appears to be confounded by the substance and politics of immigration.

The latest evidence of that is Friday’s laughable-if-it-wasn’t-so-serious White House backtrack of Biden’s walk-back on refugee policy. After promising to raise President Donald Trump’s annual cap on refugee admissions from 15,000 to 62,500, Biden balked on Friday morning. Then, under heavy pressure from fellow Democrats — many of whom had described Trump’s policy as racist, xenophobic and un-American — Biden decided on Friday afternoon to increase the number of refugees admitted into the country.

How many? “His initial goal of 62,500 seems unlikely,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement issued late Friday. The policy, she said, “has been the subject of some confusion.”

That confusion is coming from inside the White House.

It is the result of a much larger conundrum for Biden: finding the safe harbor spot on immigration that satisfies his base and doesn’t alienate centrist voters. He’ll never win over hard-line conservatives whose views are represented by a new Anglo-Saxon caucus in the House or more temperate conservatives who prioritize restrictive immigration policies.

But even if he doesn’t seek re-election in 2024, he needs both wings of his own coalition to move his agenda and keep Congress in Democratic hands in next year’s midterm elections.

So far, Biden is not just failing to please everyone; he’s having a hard time pleasing anyone. Less than a quarter of adults approve of his handling of immigration, according to an AP-NORC poll released last week, and the share of Democrats who view illegal immigration as “a major problem” has spiked from 15 percent to 29 percent in the last year, according to the Pew Research Center.

“It’s easy to promise a quick fix in a campaign, but the reality of the situation is it’s a mess and they don’t know how to address it,” a senior Senate Republican aide said of the broader issue. The back-and-forth over the refugee cap “is less an indictment of policy and more a highlight of how complex and difficult this issue is,” the aide added.

While the refugee policy limits legal rather than illegal immigration, Democratic lawmakers and immigrant-rights advocates are eager to see changes across the board after Trump cracked down on both forms of migration.

Biden’s stumbles on the issue come at a time when a surge of migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border has forced officials to house children in overcrowded facilities and forced Biden to reconsider his vow to allow asylum-seekers to await adjudication of their cases in the U.S.

Given that Biden’s overall approval ratings remain squarely on positive turf — roughly between 54 percent and 59 percent, depending on the poll — sentiments on his handling of immigration could be insignificant to his standing or a harbinger of trouble ahead. His skittish approach to the issue suggests more concern about the latter than confidence about the former.

Before taking office, Biden said he wanted to reverse Trump’s immigration policies but would set up “guardrails” to ensure that he didn’t act rashly in a way that “complicates what we’re trying to do.” He issued an executive order creating a review of Trump’s policies shortly after being sworn in, but has thus far left many of them in place.

Until Friday, Biden’s Democratic allies had been reserved in their criticism of his moves, hopeful that he will ultimately implement an immigration agenda that more closely approximates campaign-trail rhetoric envisioning “an immigration system that powers our economy and reflects our values.” Then the dam broke with news of his initial decision to leave the Trump refugee cap in place.

“Say it ain’t so, President Joe,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in a statement. “This Biden Administration refugee admissions target is unacceptable.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., a leader of House progressives, accused Biden of having “broken his promise to restore our humanity” and called the 15,000 cap “harmful, xenophobic and racist.”

One Latino-rights advocate who has been in discussions with White House officials on immigration policy told NBC News last month that the administration did not appear to have a plan on the issue. The advocate spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering allies in the White House. But activists have had to lean on their faith in Biden’s intent to reverse Trump’s policies as they wait for action.

Democratic officials’ response to the initial refugee cap decision is a sign that their patience is fleeting.

“We can’t allow refugees and asylum-seekers to sit and suffer because of Washington politics,” Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro said. “I’m glad the administration has reversed course on lifting the refugee cap. It should be done immediately and up to the target promised.”

Biden’s timidity reflects confusion over how to line up his stated policy goals with his political interests.

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Tories braced for loss of 550 council seats at 'Super Thursday' local elections



SENIOR Tories are braced for a loss of 550 council seats at the “Super Thursday” local elections next month.

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End reliance on EU! UK must become self-reliant to avoid being at bloc's mercy on vaccines



THE recent vaccine wrangle underlines why the UK must also end its reliance on goods imported from the EU, Brexiteer Jayne Adye has said.

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