Advocacy Groups Call on President Biden to Condemn the Insular Cases

Affiliate: ACLU of Puerto Rico
August 22, 2023 3:36 pm

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WASHINGTON — Today, a dozen advocacy organizations sent a letter to President Biden, asking him to publicly condemn a series of Supreme Court decisions known as the Insular Cases that inhibit residents of Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories from accessing certain constitutional rights and protections. The letter further urges Biden to condemn the colonial regime the Insular Cases continue to foster. The petition, which comes 125 years after the U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico, is an essential step in furthering Biden’s stated commitment to racial justice.

In this string of cases decided over 100 years ago, the Supreme Court described the inhabitants of the then-new territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines as “alien races” and “savage tribes,” and based its rulings squarely on the presumed racial inferiority of the non-white people who lived there.

The following quotes can be attributed as noted.

Alejandro A. Ortiz, senior staff attorney, ACLU’s Racial Justice Program:

“The Insular Cases are firmly rooted in white supremacy, and still haunt the day-to-day lives of millions of people. The presumed inferiority of territorial residents is archaic, offensive, and racist. This is why, 125 years after the U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico, we are asking President Biden to condemn these cases. If dismantling systemic racism is truly among the president’s priorities, he must match rhetoric with action.”

Lourdes M. Rosado, president and general counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF:

“The racist Insular Cases continue to be used as a precedent to block Puerto Ricans from being granted the full rights they are owed. This has been the case for well over a century, and the cases have been repeatedly cited in federal courts and agencies such as the Justice Department to justify condemning millions to second-class citizenship. The Biden administration must once and for all cease leaning on this outdated and discriminatory precedent, and help close a shameful chapter in U.S. colonialism.”

Adi Martínez-Román, co-director, Right to Democracy:

“125 years after the United States broke from its anti-colonial roots, President Biden has an opportunity to take the lead in denouncing the racist and undemocratic colonial relationship that continues to govern people in U.S. territories today. Recognizing there is a problem is the first step towards finding a solution. Rejecting the Insular Cases is a tangible way to show the United States takes seriously the need to finally address these long-standing issues.”

Lolimar Escudero-Rodriguez, policy counsel, ACLU of Puerto Rico:

“The Insular Cases must be overturned in order to end their racist and discriminatory impact on the peoples of Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories, as can be seen in recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions based on the shameful doctrines of said cases. President Biden should encourage so, and promote the provision of reparations for the people of Puerto Rico to remedy for more than 125 years of colonial exploitation, discrimination, and racism, in complete obliviousness, to say the least, of their needs and rights. The inhabitants of the so-called ‘territories’ are peoples, nations, with the right to self-determination, protected by peremptory norms of international law that the United States has ignored for more than a century.”

The letter was signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Puerto Rico, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Brennan Center for Justice, Center for Popular Democracy, Dēmos, Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., LatinoJustice PRLDEF, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., Right to Democracy, and Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

You can find the letter to president Biden here

To learn more about the Insular Cases and its racist history, click here.

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