Since 1917, residents of Puerto Rico have been citizens of the United States. However, because of Puerto Rico’s status as a United States territory, residents of Puerto Rico are not automatically guaranteed the same constitutional rights as other citizens of the United States. When faced with the question of what constitutional rights residents of Puerto Rico are entitled to, the Supreme Court has continued to perpetuate the otherness of United States territories. This disposition results from the United States’ colonial mindset in the acquisition and government of its territories. The discrimination against United States territories, namely Puerto Rico, has bled into the perception of Americans, both on mainland United States and in Puerto Rico.

In United States v. Vaello-Madero, the Supreme Court decided whether excluding residents of Puerto Rico from benefits of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program violated their constitutional right to equal protection. The Court upheld the exclusion of Puerto Rican residents, relying on the notion that if Puerto Rican residents are exempt from paying certain taxes, such federal income tax, then Congress may exclude them from certain benefits. This Note discusses the United States’ imperial past and the cases prior to this decision that established the discrimination against Puerto Rico as a United States territory. This Note also analyzes the Vaello-Madero opinion, including a discussion of the incorrect legal reasoning employed by the Court and its consistency with past cases. Finally, this Note explains the impacts of the Court’s decision. Ultimately, this Note illustrates why, 105 years after Puerto Rican residents were granted United States citizenship, Americans on mainland United States and in Puerto Rico remain uncertain of their status.

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