Perspective on USVI connection to U.S.
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To clarify what I said at the We The People Project presentation on Sept. 12, these were my points:
1. Although the reasoning and language of the insular cases is offensive, there are real and pertinent differences between what were called "incorporated" territories and those that exist today.
The population of the older territories was mostly settlers from the United States who moved to those areas with the intention of making them a part of the USA. The current territories were acquired by war, purchase, or treaties to which the resident populations were not parties. The people of these "unincorporated" territories have never had the opportunity to say what they wanted to be.
2. Under no law, domestic or foreign, is the USVI "a part of the United States." It is a territory purchased and administered by the USA.
3. The complaint of being deprived of U.S. constitutional rights is, at best, misinformed. For instance:
A) There is no constitutional right to vote for the president. What we call the presidential election is actually 50 state elections held simultaneously. The Constitution says that the states elect the President.
B) Similarly, under the Constitution, the members of Congress represent the states and the people of the states. Even the incorporated territories did not have representation in Congress.
One may disagree and desire to change the U.S. federal structure, but until that happens, this is what the Constitution says.
4. The analogy with the civil rights movements is false. If you wish to vote for the president, you can move to a state; you cannot change your racial heritage.
5. The territories have an identity under international law and rights with respect to the protection of their culture and natural resources, and the development of their economic and environmental well-being. It is because the USVI is not a part of the USA that we keep our income tax revenue in the territory rather than it going to Washington, we have our own Olympic team, go to various international conferences, etc.
6. Under international law, the USVI has a right to decide whether it wants (a) to be a part of the USA or any other country, (b) to be an independent country in itself, or (c) to negotiate a relationship in association with the USA or another independent country, with the right to modify that status in the future. Someone who asks the U.S. Congress or courts to treat the USVI as if it were a state is giving up the right of the people of the USVI to make that decision after being informed of, and thoughtfully investigating, the implications of the three options.
That violates the basic democratic principle of government based on the consent of the governed.
- Judith L. Bourne is an attorney who has practiced law in the U.S. Virgin Islands for 35 years.