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The Trail: 2012 Presidential News from the Field / CAMPAIGN 2012

Santorum Doubles Down on English Requirement as Puerto Ricans Push Back

Delegate on GOP ballot says he can’t support him anymore, and a member of Congress calls his view unreasonable.

Rick Santorum, speaks to an audience at a town-hall meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico on March 14, 2012.(AP Photo/Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo)

photo of Rebecca Kaplan
March 15, 2012

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum on Thursday doubled down on his statement that Puerto Ricans need to speak English before their island territory can become a state. He said that English needs to be “spoken universally” and should be a condition of statehood.

Santorum came here to court Republican voters in advance of the GOP primary on Sunday. But the trip may not be having the desired effect. Puerto Rico's nonvoting representative in Congress, Democrat Pedro Pierluisi, said on Thursday on CNN that Santorum’s comments were “narrow and limiting” and his English-language condition was “unreasonable.”

A delegate listed on Sunday’s ballot, meanwhile, asked Puerto Rican election authorities to remove his name from the list of those committed to Santorum. Oreste Ramos, a former member of Puerto Rico's Senate, said that Santorum’s requirement is unconstitutional and “would crash into our sociological and linguistic reality.” Beyond that, he said in a letter to election officials reported by The Spokesman newspaper, Santorum’s position is “offensive.”

 

English is one of two official languages in Puerto Rico and is the language of the federal government on the island. However, the Census Bureau reported that in 2000, nearly 86 percent of Puerto Ricans spoke a language other than English at home and that nearly 72 percent spoke English “less than very well.”

“This needs to be a bilingual country, not just a Spanish-speaking country. And, right now, it is overwhelmingly just Spanish-speaking,” Santorum told reporters in San Juan on Thursday. “In order to fully integrate into American society, English has to be a language that is spoken here also and spoken universally.”

Later on Thursday, talking with reporters, Santorum said he never suggested that English be the "only language” of Puerto Rico and that his original comments were distorted, although he did not specify who he thought distorted them.

“We understand that people of different cultures speak different languages, but we have a common language, and that's what I was saying yesterday,” Santorum said. “To suggest that -- maliciously, I would add -- someone would maliciously write that I said that was really unfortunate.... We've worked with the people of Puerto Rico, governors of the past. We've done things to try to help benefit Puerto Rico. For someone to misrepresent and completely fabricate something that I never said or even intimated is very disappointing.”

Puerto Ricans are set to vote on statehood in November. Asked if the lack of an English mandate would be a deal-breaker for statehood, Santorum replied, “I think that would be a condition.… That's how you integrate fully into American life. It’s the best opportunity for you to be economically successful, is to speak English.”

Referring to Puerto Rican students, he said, “We’re not doing them any favors” by failing to teach them English. “The public schools in most areas don't teach English and provide bilingual education, and I think that is an issue that has to be resolved for Puerto Rico to move forward into full status,” Santorum said.

As for the Ramos's departure, Santorum brushed it off by bragging to reporters about his replacement on the delegate slate: baseball player Carlos Baerga.
 
“I’m a big baseball fan so I met Carlos yesterday, and he offered to be a delegate," Santorum told reporters after participating in a parade around Old San Juan. "That was awesome for me.”

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