Today the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights heard from the Chairs of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico Advisory Committees on the role the Insular Cases have played in impacting issues of civil rights in U.S. territories. In 2022, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission established Advisory Committees in U.S. territories for the first time, bringing an end to more than 60 years in which U.S. territories were excluded from formal participation on the Commission. Today’s presentations were the first reports to the Commission from the newly created Advisory Committee from U.S. territories.

“The inclusion of U.S. territories as a structural part of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission’s conversation on civil rights in the United States is an important and necessary step,” said Neil Weare, Co-Director of Right to Democracy, which works to advance democracy, equity, and self-determination in U.S. territories, who attended the meeting. “The reports from the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico make a compelling case for why the Insular Cases, which relied on racial stereotypes to justify a colonial legal framework in U.S. territories, should be rejected by all branches of the federal government.


Right to Democracy Co-Directors Neil Weare and Adi Martínez-Román were invited by the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico Advisory Committee to provide expert testimony that was incorporated into both their reports. 

Pamela Colon, Chair of the U.S. Virgin Islands Advisory Committee, presented their report, The Status of Civil Rights in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which provides an overarching view of historic and current civil rights issues facing U.S. territories. It recognizes that the Insular Cases “paved the way for modern day colonialism in the United States, defy sound legal reasoning[,] are race-based and remain discriminatory. 

Andrés Córdova, Chair of the Puerto Rico Advisory Committee, presented their memo, The Insular Cases and the Doctrine of the Unincorporated Territory and its Effects on the Civil Rights of the Residents of Puerto Rico, which focuses specifically on the Insular Cases and their ongoing impact in Puerto Rico today. The memo recognizes that “the Insular Cases doctrine … is explicitly racist and discriminatory against residents of Puerto Rico and other territorial jurisdictions [and] decided on the grounds of an alleged inherent difference between residents of the United States and ‘alien races.’”

“Spaces like the Advisory Committees in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico provide much-needed forums to communities that have long been made invisible in the democracy and civil rights discussions in the United States. We encourage the U.S. Civil Rights Commission staff, members of the Advisory Committees, and leaders and communities from each territory to make the most of these spaces by ensuring they give voice and make visible civil and human rights issues in a way that truly reflects the concerns and diversity of our communities,” said Adi Martínez-Román, Co-Director of Right to Democracy.

Advisory Committees in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa are also undertaking important work to address civil rights issues impacting people in those territories. More information is available on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission’s website,

The full statements of Chair Colon and Chair Córdova, along with the questions asked by the Commissioners, is available at

Photo L-R: Puerto Rico Advisory Committee Chair, Andrés Córdova; U.S. Civil Rights Committee Chair Rochelle M. Garza, and U.S. Virgin Islands Advisory Committee Chair Pamela Colon