Puerto Rico's new rep to the US Congress filed a bill Wednesday that would turn the island into the 51st US state by 2025. The bill is the first step in a renewed quest for statehood that's to include a referendum letting Puerto Rico voters choose between independence and statehood, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez tells the AP. She filed the bill less than a day after she was sworn in as Puerto Rico's first female congressional representative, saying she aims to secure equal treatment for the more than 3 million US citizens living in the US territory. "We are treated as second-class American citizens," says Gonzalez, a Republican who once served as speaker of the island's House of Representatives.
The bill also aims to relieve a decade-long economic crisis that's sparked a recent exodus of more than 200,000 Puerto Ricans to the mainland. If Congress ultimately accepts Puerto Rico as a state, the island would receive roughly $10 billion in additional federal funds a year, Gonzalez says. Puerto Rico became a US territory in 1898 and gained limited political autonomy when the US approved its constitution in 1952. However, islanders can't vote in presidential elections, and their congressional representative has limited voting powers. Statehood is a top priority for Puerto Rico's new governor, Ricardo Rossello, who has said he plans to hold elections to choose two senators and five representatives to Congress and send them to Washington to demand statehood, a strategy used by Tennessee to join the union in the 1700s. (Read more Puerto Rico stories.)