Puerto Rican immigration

2011-02-24 11:31:29

Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island commonwealth of the United States, located about 1,000 miles southeast of Miami. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens but do not pay federal taxes or vote in presidential elections while living in Puerto Rico. They are not required to have visas or passports to travel to the United States, and there are no quotas on their entry. According to the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 3,406,178 Americans claimed Puerto Rican ancestry, while only 1,045 Canadians did so. More than 1.3 million Puerto Ricans live in the New York City area, and there are significant communities in Chicago, Miami, and most of the major cities in the East. During the 1990s, Puerto Ricans increasingly chose smaller towns and cities in Texas, California, and Florida.
Puerto Rico covers 3,515 square miles, facing the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the Caribbean Sea to the south. Puerto Rico was inhabited by Arawak Indians when Christopher Columbus first claimed the land for Spain in 1493. Within a few decades, virtually all the native peoples had died of disease, war, or forced labor. More than 95 percent of the population of 3,829,000 (2001) consider themselves Puerto Ricans. They are mainly descended from Europeans—most notably Spaniards, and some Corsicans, Irish, and Germans—with some Indian influences from the early period and a significant African component from the long period of slavery between the 16th and 19th centuries. Under the Spanish Crown, Puerto Rico remained relatively poor and enjoyed virtually no political rights. As a result, nationalistic rebellions broke out in the 1830s, 1860s, and 1890s. Through the Spanish-American War of 1898, the United States gained control of Puerto Rico (along with the Philippines and Guam) and in 1900 passed the Organic (Foraker) Act, which established a civilian government largely under the control of a governor appointed by the U.S. president. The Jones Act of 1917 provided more autonomy and conferred U.S. citizenship on Puerto Ricans but left most of the power in the hands of the governor. The Crawford-Butler Act of 1947 enabled Puerto Ricans to elect their own governor, and in 1952, a new constitution was authorized, making Puerto Rico a commonwealth in association with the United States. Apart from matters of foreign policy and currency, Puerto Rico is largely autonomous. The debate over Puerto Rico’s future course—full independence, continued autonomy as a commonwealth, or full statehood in the Union—raged throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Economically, the commonwealth has benefited from its association with the United States, though not as much as many had hoped. Puerto Rico has the highest per-capita income among Caribbean islands, but it would have the lowest among the states of the United States. In a nonbinding 1998 referendum, 46.5 percent of Puerto Ricans voted for statehood, demonstrating how deeply divided the population remains on the issue.
The first significant migration to U.S. territory involved 5,000 Puerto Rican contract laborers who were hired to work on sugar plantations in Hawaii between 1899 and 1901. Others began to migrate to the continental United States after World War I (1914–18). Between 1910 and 1930, the Puerto Rican population in the United States grew from 1,500 to more than 52,000. Ten years later, Puerto Ricans numbered 70,000, with 88 percent living in New York City. Improved transportation technologies, including low-cost commercial air travel, dramatically increased the rate of Puerto Rican migration after World War II (1939–45). Throughout the 1950s, an average of 45,000 came to the United States annually, with increasingly diversified destinations. By 1970, the percentage of Puerto Ricans living in New York City had declined to less than 60 percent. After a downturn in numbers in the 1970s, structural problems in the economy led to a renewed migration after 1980. Since World War II, there has always been a high rate of return migration. The numbers of Puerto Ricans in the United States nevertheless has risen significantly in every decade, from some 1.5 million in 1970 to 2 million by 1980, 2.7 million in 1990, and 3.4 million in 2000.