Puerto Rico faces an imminent humanitarian crisis. President Trump and Vice President Pence’s recent visits hopefully will result in additional federal resources and attention to address the human suffering happening on the ground. But their visits also highlight a democratic crisis that can no longer be ignored — one that Trump and other American leaders would be wise to address. As a Puerto Rican who relocated to Virginia shortly after Hurricane Irma, these issues are deeply personal. Puerto Ricans are American citizens by birth, although nearly half of Americans do not know this. However, residents of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands — whose population of nearly 4 million is greater than the smallest five states combined — cannot vote for president and are denied any voting representatives in the U.S. House or Senate.
Puerto Ricans and Virgin Islanders impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria depend on the same federal response as state residents to deliver emergency aid and help rebuild their communities. Yet they do not have any voting representatives to advocate on their behalf for federal resources.
It is not hard to see the practical consequences of this political marginalization. The number of federal workers and troops deployed were significantly higher for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma than for Maria. While Trump visited Texas twice the week after Harvey hit and visited Florida within four days after Irma, Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico came nearly two weeks after Maria devastated the island.