Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson vowed to push for Puerto Rico statehood if he is elected. He joins fellow candidates former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in calling for the U.S. territory to be officially made the 51st state.
Carson visited the island on Nov. 7 to speak at a New Progressive Party rally. The political party is pro-statehood, NBC News reports.
"In a Carson administration, I will leave no stone unturned in my efforts to secure this important step in Puerto Rico's history — establishing Estado 51,” the retired neurosurgeon pledged, CNN reported.
"When you stop and think about it Puerto Ricans have been Americans for a century or more already," says Carson, according to NBC News. "You've already paid your dues," Carson told a cheering crowd. "There have probably been more patriotic Puerto Ricans than any other state.”
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The U.S. territory is in the middle of an economic crisis. After 10 years of dwindling government revenue and natives leaving for work in the mainland U.S., Puerto Rico has accumulated a $72 billion debt that Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla has admitted cannot be paid, according to The Associated Press.
"If we start treating them like we do everybody else the debts will get much better," Carson claimed, NBC News reported. "Hawaii and Alaska also had debt ... until things took off and that will happen here as well."
In early 2015, Bush told pro-statehood Puerto Ricans they have his support, NBC News reports.
“Puerto Rican citizens, U.S. citizens, ought to have the right to determine whether they want to be a state,” Bush said. “I think statehood is the best path, personally."
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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has yet to openly endorse making Puerto Rico the 51st state, CNN reports.
Roughly 5 million Puerto Ricans live in the U.S., according to Pew Research Center statistics cited by NBC. While Puerto Ricans can vote in primaries, they cannot vote in the general presidential election.