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Commonwealth (U.S. insular area)

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Title: Commonwealth (U.S. insular area)  
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Language: English
Subject: Constitution of Puerto Rico, Luis A. Ferré, Northern Mariana Islands, Political status of Puerto Rico, Economy of Puerto Rico
Collection: Insular Areas of the United States
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Commonwealth (U.S. insular area)

In the terminology of the unincorporated dependent territory.

The definition of "Commonwealth" according to current U.S. State Department policy (as codified in the department's Foreign Affairs Manual) reads: "The term 'Commonwealth' does not describe or provide for any specific political status or relationship. It has, for example, been applied to both states and territories. When used in connection with areas under U.S. sovereignty that are not states, the term broadly describes an area that is self-governing under a constitution of its adoption and whose right of self-government will not be unilaterally withdrawn by Congress."[1]

There are currently two United States insular areas with the status of commonwealth, the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico.


  • Current commonwealths 1
    • Commonwealth of Puerto Rico 1.1
    • Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands 1.2
    • Representation in Congress 1.3
  • Former commonwealths 2
    • Commonwealth of the Philippines 2.1
  • See also 3
  • References 4

Current commonwealths

Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

Of the current U.S. insular areas, the term was first used by Puerto Rico in 1952 as its formal name in English ("Commonwealth of Puerto Rico"). The formal name in Spanish for Puerto Rico is "Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico," ("Associated Free State of Puerto Rico"). The United States acquired the islands of Puerto Rico in 1898 after the Spanish–American War. In 1950, Congress enacted legislation (P.L. 81-600) authorizing Puerto Rico to hold a constitutional convention and in 1952, the people of Puerto Rico ratified a constitution establishing a republican form of government for the island.[2] Puerto Rico's political relationship with the U.S. has been a continuing source of debate in Puerto Rico, the United States Congress, and the United Nations. The issue revolves around whether Puerto Rico should remain a U.S. territory, become a U.S. state, or become an independent country. The debate has spawned several referenda, presidential executive orders and bills in the U.S. Congress. Ultimately the U.S. Congress is the only body empowered to decide the political status of Puerto Rico, as stated under the Territorial Clause.[3]

Despite the Spanish translation of the term "commonwealth", Puerto Rico's relationship with United States is not a Compact of Free Association (which is the case for the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands). As sovereign states, these islands have full right to conduct their own foreign relations, while the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is part of the United States as a territory. The Popular Democratic Party of Puerto Rico, says that in 1952 there was a pact between Puerto Rico and the United States that gave Puerto Rico an autonomous government and removed it from the list of colonies.

The territory was organized by the Foraker Act in 1900, which was amended by the Jones–Shafroth Act in 1917. The drafting of the Constitution of Puerto Rico by its residents was authorized by Congress in 1951, and the result approved in 1952. The government of Puerto Rico has held several referenda with the options of U.S. statehood, independence, and commonwealth; the commonwealth option won on the plebiscites held in 1967, 1993, and 1998.[4] In 2012 54% of the voters did not wish to continue the present territorial status. Of the non-territorial statuses, becoming a US state got 61.16% of the votes, Sovereign Free Associate State got 33.34% and Independence got 5.49%.[5]

Puerto Ricans have United States citizenship and vote for a Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, with voice but without vote, in the United States House of Representatives. With the exception of federal employees (such as employees of the United States Postal Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and servicemen in all branches of the military), residents of Puerto Rico generally do not pay federal income taxes (with the exception of Social Security and Medicare taxes) and Puerto Rico has no representation in the Electoral College that ultimately chooses the U.S. president and vice president.

Puerto Rico has sports sovereignty, with its own national Olympic team. Puerto Rico also participates in different international organizations such as the Ibero-American Summit (associate member).[6]

Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

In 1976, Congress approved the mutually negotiated Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) in Political Union with the United States.[7] Prior to November 28, 2009, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) did not apply in the CNMI. Rather, a separate immigration system existed in the CNMI. This system was established under the Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Political Union with the United States of America ("Covenant"), which was signed in 1975 and codified as 48 U.S.C. § 1801. The Covenant was unilaterally amended by the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 CNRA approved by the U.S. Congress on May 8, 2008, thus altering the CNMI's immigration system. Specifically, CNRA § 702(a) amended the Covenant to state that "the provisions of the 'immigration laws' (as defined in section 101(a)(17) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(17))) shall apply to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands."2 Further, under CNRA § 702(a), the "immigration laws," as well as the amendments to the Covenant, "shall ... supersede and replace all laws, provisions, or programs of the Commonwealth relating to the admission of aliens and the removal of aliens from the Commonwealth."[8]

Transition to U.S. Immigration Law began November 28, 2009 in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). CNMI's immigration laws have been replaced by the INA and other U.S. immigration laws.[9][10]

Representation in Congress

U.S. insular areas are not afforded direct representation in the federal legislature, either in the Senate or in the House of Representatives.

Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution provides that each U.S. State is entitled to two Senators, but makes no provision for representation of insular areas in the Senate.

Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution apportions seats in the House of Representatives among the U.S. States by population, with each State being entitled to at least one Representative, but makes no provision for representation of insular areas in the House. Insular areas are, however, afforded limited representation in the House by a Delegate who may vote in committee but not on the House floor.[11]

Former commonwealths

Commonwealth of the Philippines

The Commonwealth of the Philippines was an insular area that held commonwealth status from March 24, 1934 until July 4, 1946. The United States recognized the future independence of the Philippines in 1934 but called for a transitional ten-year period from 1934 up to 1944. The Second World War disrupted the schedule and the Philippines became fully independent in 1946.[12]

See also


  1. ^ "7 fam 1120 acquisition of u.s. nationality in u.s. territories and possessions" (PDF). U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual Volume 7- Consular Affairs. U.S. Department of State. 06-01-05. Retrieved 2010-01-24. 
  2. ^ Garrett, R. Sam (7 June 2011). "Political Status of Puerto Rico: Options for Congress" (PDF). Congressional Research Service. Retrieved 28 February 2013. 
  3. ^ "Government". Welcome to Puerto Rico!. Magaly Rivera. 
  4. ^ December 2005 report of the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status
  5. ^ "General Elections 2012 and Plebiscite on Puerto Rico Political Status". Comisión Estatal de Elecciones. 
  6. ^ CEPAL - ECLAC - Member States
  7. ^ "Covenant". Commonwealth Law Revision Commission. CNMI-LRC. Retrieved 28 February 2013. 
  8. ^ O'Leary, Brian M. "The Transition to the Immigration and Nationality Act in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands" (PDF). U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved 28 February 2013. 
  9. ^ Eugenio, Haidee V. (1 January 2010). "CNMI loses immigration control in 2009". Saipan Tribune. 
  10. ^ Misulich, Robert J. (2011). "A Lesser-Known Immigration Crisis: Federal Immigration Law in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands" (PDF). Pacific Rim Law & Policy Journal Association. 
  11. ^ "Sablan WIll Stand For NMI Delegate Position". Archived from the original on 2008-11-21.  ; Resident Commissioner; election 48 U.S.C. § 891.
  12. ^ The Philippines independence Act (Tydings-McDuffie Act, Approved March 24, 1934, Section 10.(a), Chan Robles Law Library.
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