The Indignity of a False Citizenship

Self-Induced Statelessness in Puerto Rico

In: Tilburg Law Review
Katharine Nylund1Donald M. Wilson Fellow, Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, International Strategic Litigation Unit

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This article will explore the history and legacy of attempts to advocate for independence in Puerto Rico via the renunciation of United States (US) citizenship. The US acquired Puerto Rico over a century ago, and Puerto Ricans gained US citizenship in 1917, but the island remains an unincorporated territory. Various options, including independence and statehood, have been debated for decades. While voting records show that only a small percentage of the Puerto Rican population supports full independence from the United States, many pro-independence activists spurred debate by renouncing their US citizenship and claiming that they are citizens of Puerto Rico only. This raised questions as to whether they actually became stateless as a result. One of the most notable independence activists, the late Juan Mari Brás, caused confusion at the US State Department, which initially accepted his renunciation of US citizenship only to reverse its decision three years later. A discussion of the multifaceted meaning of ‘citizenship’ in the context of Puerto Rico illuminates the United States’ approach to the international right to a nationality.

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