Tuesday, June 14, 2011

DOJ's Perrilli pushes for legal clarity on Puerto Rico

DOJ's Perrilli pushes for legal clarity on Puerto Rico

Hours before President Barack Obama's rare visit to Puerto Rico, the No. 3 official at the U.S. Justice Department said on Monday that the administration wants a resolution on the island's legal status by the end of 2012.

Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli is involved in the issue as co-chair of the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status. The task force issued a report in March with several recommendations, and those ideas are getting renewed attention because of Obama's visit, which the White House calls the first by a sitting president since 1961.

Perrelli reiterated the task force's recommendation that Puerto Ricans be able to "express their will about status options," through one or more plebiscites, and have Congress and the president act on that will by the end of next year "or soon thereafter." If that doesn't happen, the task force recommended that Congress draft legislation outlining Puerto Ricans' options for them.

"This was the product of significant deliberation that we believe fairly looked at all the issues with a fresh set of eyes," Perrelli said on a conference call with reporters.

Puerto Rico is treated as a "commonwealth" under U.S. law and as a territory under the U.S. Constitution. People born on the island are U.S. citizens, and they rely on the federal government for defense and foreign policy. They generally don't pay income tax, but they don't have voting representation in Congress.

Proposals for changing the island's status have focused on independence, statehood or "free association." Under free association, the island would become independent but, like the Marshall Islands or Palau, retain a close relationship with the federal government.

On the conference call, Perrelli addressed a separate legal issue in response to a question about a series of killings of gay, lesbian and transgender people in Puerto Rico. "We are aware of those incidents and are currently reviewing them," Perrelli said. The Associated Press reported that local activists want the killings investigated as possible hate crimes.