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Interpreting the Evidence

Letter to American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) about Puerto Rican Immigration Credentials, c. 1947

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Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Letter from Ruth M. Reynolds to the American Civil Liberties Union about Puerto Rican immigration, October 1947.
Historical Context
In 1898, as a result of the Spanish-American War, the island of Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States. In 1917, Congress gave limited U.S. citizenship rights to Puerto Ricans, but the island was not made a commonwealth of the United States until 1952. Puerto Ricans are considered citizens of the U.S. and can travel within the U.S. without restrictions; however, they do not have the right to vote in presidential or congressional elections. Though they do not have a voice in U.S. elections, Congress has sent Puerto Ricans to fight in American wars.

The earliest Puerto Ricans to make their home on the U.S. mainland arrived in the nineteenth century, but the U.S. need for cheap labor during World Wars I and II greatly increased migration from the island. Large Puerto Rican communities were established and grew, especially in New York City’s East Harlem, South Bronx, and Lower East Side. Puerto Rican migration during the post-World War II era increased from 1,800 per year from 1930-1940 to 31,000 per year from 1946-1950. The rapid increase in the city’s population caused problems with housing, unemployment, and education and often left Puerto Ricans living in very poor conditions.
Essential Question
How does a government baclance the need for public safety with individual civil rights?
Check for Understanding
Identify the main idea of this letter and explain why the request for recommendations prior to immigration would be considered an act of a police state.
Historical Challenges
Research the history of Puerto Rican migration in the twentieth century and develop a multimedia presentation on both the benefits and struggles caused by this migration.
How was the issue of credentials resolved? Research other issues the American Civil Liberties Union fought for or against that involved the Latino community.
Interdisciplinary Connections
English Language Arts: Have students read and write a book report on Esmeralda Santiago’s book When I was Puerto Rican (Boston: Addison Wesley, 1993).
English Language Arts: Write a letter of protest for any issue you feel strongly about.