Santorum: English needed for Puerto Rico statehood

AP News

3/14/2012 10:02:18 PM - AP News

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum said Wednesday that Puerto Rico should only gain statehood if the territory makes English its main language.

In an interview with a San Juan newspaper, El Vocero, Santorum said English would have to be the "main language" if Puerto Rico were to become a state.

"As in any other state, you have to comply with this and any federal law. And that is that English has to be the main language," Santorum told the paper. "There are other states with more than one language as is the case in Hawaii, but to be a state in the United States, English has to be the main language."

There is no federal law designating English as the country's official language, although some states and local governments have adopted such "English only" laws.

Puerto Rico is a U.S. commonwealth. Its residents are U.S. citizens but can only vote for president in the primaries, nor do they have a voting representative in Congress. Puerto Ricans will hold a referendum Nov. 6 on the island's political status. Statehood, independence and no change in status are the three options. Regardless of the outcome, Congress must approve any change in status.

A key sticking point is Puerto Rico's official language, which is Spanish. Most Puerto Ricans feel strongly about maintaining their culture and language. There is concern that as a condition of statehood or to assert its authority over the island, Congress "could require Puerto Rico to adopt English as the only official language of the island," according to a report issued last year by the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status. The task force, however, recommended that "the president and Congress "ensure that Puerto Rico controls its own cultural and linguistic identity."

Santorum was in San Juan campaigning for Sunday's GOP presidential primary. He met with Gov. Luis Fortuno, who is backing Santorum rival Mitt Romney and held town hall events with veterans and local business leaders.

Fortuno backs Romney in large part because the former Massachusetts governor has expressed support for Puerto Rico becoming a state. Santorum has expressed reservations, telling reporters Wednesday that a simple majority in the fall referendum wouldn't be a convincing statement that islanders wanted Puerto Rico become the 51st state.