We must never forget that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. For the better part of a century, they have given their time, their resources, and, too often, their lives to protect our nation. Today, Puerto Rico confronts a terrible economic crisis — one which demands that we honor our shared bond as U.S. citizens.
That bond could not be clearer or stronger than here in New York City, where each year we have the honor of hosting the National Puerto Rican Day Paradeon Fifth Avenue, where hundreds of thousands of boricuas wave Puerto Rican flags and chant, “que bonita bandera! ” This extraordinary parade reflects the ties that bind so many New Yorkers to la isla del encanto .
For more than 100 years, in ways great and small, Puerto Ricans have helped make New York City the capital of the world.
More than 700,000 Puerto Ricans live in New York City today — the largest Puerto Rican community outside of the island. They are teachers and firefighters, doctors and police officers, business owners and artists. They are our fellow New Yorkers, working hard every day to help this city reach its full potential. And their contributions are undeniable.
If you love New York City, you have to love Puerto Rico.
Cities across the nation have been similarly enriched and strengthened by vibrant Puerto Rican populations committed to our common success as Americans.
So Puerto Rico’s economic crisis is a moment of truth for all of us — if we are equally committed to common success as Americans, if we want to give back to the island all that its people have given and continue to give to us, we must stand up immediately and extend a helping hand.
The island is $72 billion in debt. Governor Alejandro Padilla has indicated that these debts are “unpayable.” The U.S. Treasury Department has testified that the Commonwealth is effectively out of cash. But unlike cities and states in our Union, Puerto Rico cannot avail itself of any remedies under Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.
In August, the island defaulted for the first time in its history. And while Puerto Rico has recently received mild relief in the form of a $5.7 billion debt restructuring, it is a drop in the bucket of the overall debt they face.
President Obama took an important step when he made his support for the Puerto Rican people clear by announcing a series of recommendations for tackling this crisis. Acknowledging that severe austerity is not the way to solve this unsustainable debt, the president’s plan calls on Congress to give Puerto Rico the option to address this crisis through restructuring its debt; strengthening their Medicaid program; and allowing the island to access the Earned Income Tax Credit, a program that promotes economic growth while rewarding hard work.
These measures require Congressional action, and as long as Congress remains politically polarized, there is little relief in sight for the island — a shameful reality for 3.5 million Americans living on the island and three-quarters of a million more here in New York City.
The reasons behind this crisis are complex, and there is enough blame to go around, but finding fault is beside the point. Every day the island spends in debt makes it harder to lift our fellow Americans up. We must move forward together.
And leaders across the country are stepping up in solidarity — President Obama now chief among them.
The time has come for Congress to act. Supporting and protecting Puerto Rico during this time of need is a moral and practical obligation.
If we don’t act, if we don’t rise to our responsibility to our fellow citizens — who have never hesitated in their commitment to the nation — we risk losing Puerto Rico as we know it.
We risk leaving millions of Americans behind at the bottom of a mountain of debt, which will ultimately trigger a full-blown humanitarian crisis for Puerto Rico and our nation.
Our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters have been calling on us. We’re adding our voices to the call, urging Congress to follow the president’s recommendations, because we’re all Americans in this together. It’s time to show that when Puerto Rico calls we are ¡presente!
De Blasio is the mayor of New York City. Calderón is the president of the Hispanic Federation .