Santorum says Puerto Rico must adopt English for statehood
March 14th, 2012
05:47 PM ET
3 years ago

Santorum says Puerto Rico must adopt English for statehood

(CNN) – Rick Santorum on Wednesday laid out one caveat he would hold for the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico before it obtained statehood, saying the island would need to make English its principal language before it becomes a state.

Santorum portrayed the language requirement as a matter of federal law, though no language provision currently exists for territories seeking statehood. In the past, territories seeking admission to the United States have been required to adopt English as the language of state government.

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Speaking with the Puerto Rico newspaper Vocero, Santorum was asked if he would support statehood for an island where the primary language is Spanish.

"Like any other state, there needs to be compliance with this and any other federal law," Santorum said. "And that is that English needs to be the principal language. There are other states with more than one language, like Hawaii, but to be a state of the United States, English must be the principal language."

Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution spells out how states can be admitted to the union, making no mention of language requirements. The passage states: "New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress."

A second clause states Congress has the power to "dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States."

In the past, Congress has passed "enabling acts" for territories seeking statehood, and has included provisions requiring English to be the prevailing language as a requirement for admission. The Louisiana Enabling Act of 1811 mandated the new state conduct its official business in the same language as the United States.

In 1906, Congress passed an enabling act requiring Oklahoma use English in its public schools before it obtained statehood.

There is currently no law declaring an official language of the United States, though several attempts have been made to give English that designation. Thirty-one states have passed laws naming English as their official language.

Both English and Spanish are official languages of Puerto Rico, though Spanish is by far the dominant language on the island. According to census data released in 2012, 81% of Puerto Rico residents spoke English "less than very well," with 95% saying Spanish was the language they spoke at home.

Congress would need to approve statehood for Puerto Rico after residents voted in a referendum. Many members of Congress, some of whom have pushed for a federal law declaring English as the official language of the United States, would no doubt raise the island's language as an issue before voting for statehood.

Santorum was campaigning in Puerto Rico Wednesday ahead of the territory's GOP primary on Sunday. There are 20 total delegates at stake.

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Filed under: 2012 • Puerto Rico • Rick Santorum
soundoff (152 Responses)
  1. Pammy

    @ Rudy

    I really don't read that the way you do. Even if someone wanted to force anyone to speak English as part of their daily lives or force a private business, whether it be a corner grocery store or a multimillion dollar corporation, to conduct their business solely in English, they would not be successful in implementing such a rule because it's unconstitutional. I think this guy is pretty radical in his ideas, but I don't think he is stupid enough to go to a region where Spanish is the primary language and suggest they should all speak English at all times. I really do think that he meant that English should be used in conducting governmental functions if PR is to become a state. I think he may be inferring that people should also learn English if it is to become a state because it would make everyone's life easier, but I think you are going too far in your assumption of what he meant when he said that.

    March 15, 2012 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  2. freedom

    English do not unite any one. Just look at the republican and the democrat party. Both parties speak english and not one can unite in a decision. So what you're spewing is idiocy

    March 15, 2012 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
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