Tuesday, October 17, 2017 | Updated at 4:23 PM ET

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Puerto Rico votes in favor of US statehood

First Posted: Jun 12, 2017 07:12 AM EDT
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Puerto Rico

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Half a million Puerto Ricans voted this Sunday to become America's 51st state.

Nearly 97% of all the votes were in favor of statehood but just 23 percent of registered voters cast ballots. Opposition parties boycotted the referendum because they considered it rigged.

The result places Puerto Rico in conflict with the Congress, which has the power to grant them their wish but until now has refuse to do so. The referendum is non-binding and Congress would have to approve it which is unlikely since the island is facing serious debt and unemployment crisis.

Until now, Puerto Rico is a non-incorporated territory of the U.S. This means it has its own constitution, laws and representatives, but all of it can be override by the U.S. government. Residents of Puerto Rico are not entitled to electoral votes for President.

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but with fewer rights and responsibilities than residents of the other 50 states. They do not pay many federal taxes but receive far less support for social programs like Medicaid.

So, why bother trying to change?

Puerto Rico's debt and migration crisis is in part result of its territorial status. Almost 10 years ago, Congress decided to remove a tax-incentive program to encourage investment in the island causing many companies to leave. Their workers followed and the tax base collapsed.

This placed the island deep in debt but they can't declare bankruptcy because they are not a state. They can't ask for international assistance either.

Last year, former president Barack Obama signed legislation to address Puerto Rico's fiscal crisis allowing it to file for bankruptcy-like proceedings to relieve its debt.

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