Will Congress Translate Proposed Puerto Rico Status Legislation Into Spanish?

Jun 9, 2022
2:48 PM

House Committee on Natural Resources Chair Raúl Grijalva speaks on May 19, 2022 to announce details of the Puerto Rico Status Act. Other attendees included Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Chair Nydia Velázquez, Rep. Darren Soto, Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Gov. Pedro Pierluisi. (House Committee on Natural Resources /Public Domain)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A discussion is brewing in the House of Representatives over whether or not the new Puerto Rico Status Discussion Draft will be translated into Spanish.

“I will not support any legislation that has not been translated into Spanish and shared with the Puerto Rican electorate first,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), one of four lawmakers who traveled to the island over the weekend for a public comment forum on the draft.

Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) has been quick to point out on multiple occasions to Latino Rebels that Spanish is the preferred language on the island.

“Their governmental language, the language of the courts, is Spanish,” Wicker said. “Spanish is the way they think. It’s the way they pray. They want to keep that.”

This week, former Puerto Rican governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá tweeted several examples of U.S. mandating English as an official legislative language of the United States.

“Congress can and has in the past [Louisana, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico] imposed English on new states,” said Javier Hernández, a pro-sovereignty activist and author of PREXIT.

The decision over whether or not the current Puerto Rico Status Discussion Draft will be translated ultimately falls on Rep. Raúl Grijalva, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Grijalva tells Latino Rebels that he has explored the possibility of translating the Puerto Rico status discussion draft but his committee’s legal counsel has cautioned against doing so for logistical reasons.

Legal counsel advised us that the content of this translation has to be legally exact,” said Grijalva. “There can be no contexts or meanings that are confusing to anybody.”

Grijalva said he can think of no other time during his nine terms in Congress when a legislative text required a Spanish translation. “Not with the consequences involved in terms of its accuracy,” said Grijalva. “We’ve had bills that summaries have been translated into a language other than English. The general content has been translated generally.”

What makes the Puerto Rico Status Act Discussion Draft different from other bills where a translated summary sufficed, according to Grijalva, is the severity of the consequences involved for the people on the island.

Plus, the discussion draft itself is, in essence, a working document that would require constant translating and retranslating as a specific bill text is forged from the legislative process in the House where his Natural Resources Committee has jurisdiction.

“Let’s not create a situation in which, in a translation to get something out, we create a discrepancy between what we’ve done in English and what we’ve done in Spanish,” Grijalva cautioned. “Then which one supersedes the other? That became the legal question with legal counsel.”

Still, Grijalva isn’t entirely convinced by his committee’s legal counsel’s argument against translating the text.

“A summary of general categories and a generalization with the understanding that this is not binding language would have sufficed,” said Grijalva, who added that he eventually conceded to the opinion of his legal counsel—at least for now.

That could change at any point between now and the Natural Resources hearing in the works to examine the Puerto Rican status legislation.

Grijalva also told Latino Rebels that he anticipated the committee hearing on the Puerto Rico Status Act Discussion Draft will happen “before the August break.”

UPDATE, June 15, 2022: An official Spanish version of the discussion draft is now available to the public.


Pablo Manríquez is the Washington correspondent for Latino Rebels. Twitter: @PabloReports