According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website, one right of all U.S. citizens is the “right to vote in elections for public officials.” Many people think that inequality in America is a relic of the past, as minorities and women are now treated more equally under the law. However, there is one overlooked group of American citizens whose rights are not equal to ours: those who live in U.S. territories.
The United States of America has four territories whose residents are American citizens by birth: Guam, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. While American Samoa is also a U.S. territory, its residents have to go through a naturalization process to become citizens. These citizens, while guaranteed equality under the Constitution, cannot enjoy some of the privileges most central to American democracy.
One of the leading causes of the American Revolution was unfair taxes imposed by Great Britain; this is why “no taxation without representation” is one of America’s core values. Ironically, the United States is now in the same position Great Britain was nearly 250 years ago. The approximately four million citizens living in territories are charged federal taxes, but they do not have proportional representation in the federal government. Although they are allowed to vote in presidential primaries, they cannot vote in the general elections. In addition, each territory is only granted one non-voting member in the House of Representatives, and no senators. Over one percent of modern America is under the same condition that caused colonial America to rebel, which is why I believe that something must be done. American territories need to become states, or at least become parts of already-existing states.
Another benefit that would arise from turning territories into states is an increase of emergency help. All American territories are islands, leaving them especially vulnerable to natural disasters such as hurricanes. While no legislation causes territories to receive less aid after a disaster, the fact that they are not states causes them to be seen as second-rate, and therefore of less importance. I think a good example of this is Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico last year. While there are surely other factors for its death toll of over 3,000 (1,000 more than Hurricane Katrina), its lack of statehood was definitely a big one. During the aftermath of Maria, the federal government helped for some time, then turned their backs and called it a job well done as people continued to die. Fatalities could have been avoided if Puerto Rico was a state.
A defining principle of America is equality for all. The 14th Amendment says that states cannot “abridge the privileges” of citizens, yet that is exactly what the federal government is doing to Americans who live in territories. For America to stay true to its values, territories must become states or be added to states to give all American citizens a voice and proper representation.