Why Puerto Ricans Did Not Receive US Citizenship So They Could Fight in WWI

by Mar 31, 2017Bocaítos0 comments

One of the most common myths seemingly accepted as fact regarding Puerto Ricans and their US citizenship is that it was only granted so residents of the islands could fight for the US in World War I. However, the history shows a more complex situation, one that refutes that assertion, as Harry Franqui-Rivera explains for Centro Voices.

We just crossed that threshold, the centenary of the Jones-Shafroth Act, which among many other things, extended U.S. citizenship to the people of “Porto Rico” on March 2, 1917. A century later we still hear the tired opinion that it happened just so Puerto Ricans could be drafted into the U.S. military to be used as cannon fodder. Nothing is further from the truth.

Let us look at facts and chronology.

March 2, 1917–Puerto Ricans became U.S citizens.

April 6, 1917–The U.S declares war on the German Empire and its allies.

May 18, 1917–Congress passed the Selective Service Act of 1917 calling for all males between the ages of 18 and 32 to fill out registration cards.

Case done. Nothing to see here, move on. That was the big American plan. 

Step 1–Force U.S. citizenship on Puerto Ricans. 

Step 2–Send them to France to win a victory for the Empire. 

That seems to be the logic of people who can’t be convinced—regardless of how much evidence is presented to them, that the last thing the U.S. political establishment and the military wanted was Puerto Ricans in the military. 


In a political era when facts which don’t support previously held beliefs are cast aside, it’s important to examine pieces like these and actually take the nuances and complexities of history into consideration. Particularly, and this is the article’s most important fact, we should consider that based on the Registration Act of 1917, Puerto Rico did not have to be citizens in order to be drafted for the war. So there you have it; now you can bookmark this and use it whenever brings up this myth as fact again.