NPR Reporter Squashes Question About ‘Vetting’ Puerto Ricans

“We don’t vet people that move from one state to another, from one part of America to another. That’s their right as Americans.”

It shouldn’t need repeating, but for the record: Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.

Anyone who needs a refresher should probably listen to a recent C-SPAN segment in which an NPR correspondent politely schools a caller wondering why no one seemed worried about Puerto Ricans moving to the continental U.S.

Tom Gjelten took questions from callers when he appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” show Saturday to discuss his book A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story.

One caller, first saying his family was proud of their immigration story, asked Gjelten how he felt about the increased migration from Puerto Rico as the island faces financial crisis.

“I would like to ask the guest, what’s his opinion of the migration that is coming from Puerto Rico right now,” the caller asked. “[They’re] not considered immigrants, but coming to the United States, as U.S. citizens, with no vetting, and that just seems something that’s not being discussed at all.”

The question evokes President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign speeches, during which he called for “extreme vetting” of Muslim visitors to the U.S. and stoked fears about Latino immigrants.

But we don’t “vet” citizens, Gjelten pointed out.

“The reason it’s not being discussed, and you’ve alluded to it, it’s because they’re not immigrants,” he told the caller. “Puerto Rico is not a state, but Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.”

The struggling island has experienced rapid population loss, shrinking 6.8 percent between 2010 and 2015.

Gjelten compared the exodus to other moments in U.S. history when economic crisis or opportunity sparked major population shifts. During the Dust Bowl, 2.5 million residents fled the brutal conditions in the Plains states. And over several decades, approximately 7 million African-Americans moved from the South to Northern cities, mostly for jobs ― a shift called the Great Migration.

“Those people have every right to move to another state, some other part of the country where there are more jobs,” Gjelten continued. “You talk about vetting ― we don’t vet people that move from one state to another, from one part of America to another. That’s their right as Americans.”

Most Americans are confused about Puerto Ricans’ nationality, according to a May Economist/YouGov survey. The poll of 2,000 U.S. citizens ages 18 and older found just 43 percent of respondents knew that Puerto Ricans are American.

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