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A Latinx Resource Guide: Civil Rights Cases and Events in the United States

1917: Jones-Shafroth Act

Frank Espada, photographer. Young man with Puerto Rican flag. 1970. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth Act (1917) on March 2, 1917, giving Puerto Ricans U.S. statutory citizenship. This act also separated Puerto Rico’s government into Executive, Judicial, and Legislative branches, and endowed Puerto Ricans with a bill of rights. Additionally, the act established an insular bicameral legislature with 19 elected Senate members and 39 elected House of Representative members. It also stated that Puerto Rico’s Governor and the U.S. Executive branch possessed authorization to veto or override any law enacted by that legislature.

Citizenship under the Jones-Shafroth Act (1917) resulted in mass migration to the U.S. mainland; mostly to New York State. Approximately 42,000 Puerto Ricans migrated to the U.S. during the 1920s. Today, Puerto Rico does not have voting representation in Congress, and Puerto Ricans with residency on the island are not eligible to vote in general elections, only in primaries. Those Puerto Ricans living on the U.S. mainland can register to vote in their respective states.

The Selective Service Act of 1917 followed the Jones-Shafroth Act (1917). This second act permitted the U.S. to draft soldiers, including Puerto Ricans. Approximately 20,000 Puerto Rican service members served in World War I and 65,000 fought in World War II.


April 21, 1898 The Spanish American War begins.
December 10, 1898 The Spanish American War ends and Puerto Rico is ceded to the United States.
March 2, 1917 President Woodrow Wilson signs the Jones-Shafroth Act (1917) making Puerto Rico a U.S. territory
May 18, 1917 Congress passes the Selective Service Act of 1917, permitting the Puerto Ricans to be drafted into U.S. military service.


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