Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Isabel Gonzalez: Gonzales v. Williams, 192 U.S. 1 (1904)

On Aug 24, 1902 a young pregnant Puerto Rican female, Isabel Gonzalez, arrived in New York from Puerto Rico by steamship. She was to meet her fiance, who had left Puerto Rico earlier that year in search of work, and family to then settle down and get married. Little did she know that she would be transferred to Ellis Island and detained as an 'alien immigrant' upon her arrival.

In late 1898, the Treaty of Paris would be signed placing Puerto Rico under U.S. control. Military rule would almost quickly be established, the Americanization process would begin and by 1899 the islands name would be changed to Porto Rico. Considering the islands population at the time racially and socially inferior, the U.S Congress opposed U.S. citizenship. When it applied to law, Puerto Rico was foreign on a domestic level but was a part of the U.S on an international level. When the Immigration Commissioner then decided to issue new guidelines, Gonzalez status would be considered 'alien'.

Initial attempts by family to get her released were fruitless so a petition was filed on her behalf. Lawyers interested in her case would file the petition with the U.S. Circuit Court for the Southern District of New York where the court would eventually rule that she was an alien.

Although she had lost her case there, Gonzalez decided she would then appeal to the United States Supreme Court. At the same time, Federico Degetau, a Puerto Rican politician and lawyer (and 1st Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico) was writing in protest of the new rules that made Puerto Ricans subject to immigration laws. He became interested in the Gonzalez case and on Dec. 4 and 7 of 1903 the case, which became known as Gonzales v. Williams, would be argued. This time around the court would rule in Gonzalez favor. Although she would not be declared a U.S. citizen, she would not be considered an alien.

Isabel Gonzalez would go on to live in New York and actively pursued the cause of U.S. citizenship for all Puerto Ricans. In 1917, the Jones-Shafroth Act would be signed into law granting all Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship.

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1 comment:

  1. A couple of months ago, my local newspaper reported this ruling in its "this day in history" section, peaking my interest as a Puerto Rican, so I was thrilled to find your very informative website which contains more in depth information about the lawsuit and what ensued as a result. Thanks a million.