Isabel González was born in Puerto Rico in 1882. In 1898, the Spanish-American War broke out in Cuba. The United States joined the war for Cuban independence from Spain. The conflict expanded to other Spanish colonies, including Puerto Rico and the Philippines. After just 10 weeks, the United States was victorious, and Spain ceded Puerto Rico and the Philippines to the United States. The following year, 17-year-old Isabel married and gave birth to a daughter.
Isabel’s husband died of tuberculosis in 1902. At the time, Isabel was pregnant with her second child. She made the difficult decision to leave her daughter with her parents and find work in New York. When Isabel arrived at Ellis Island, she was denied entry to the United States. In 1891, Congress passed a law that required all pregnant women who entered the United States to prove they were married. The U.S. government wanted to prevent immigrant women from relying on public assistance. The officials decided to deport Isabel, but she fought back. Isabel claimed that as a resident of Puerto Rico, she was not an immigrant and should not face deportation.
Isabel sued the U.S. government to stay in the mainland United States. And she believed Puerto Ricans should be recognized as citizens. The Circuit Court of the United States for the District of New York ruled against her. The judge argued she was not born a U.S. citizen and had not been naturalized. Therefore, she was an immigrant. In addition, all other residents of Puerto Rico and the Philippines arriving in the United States were also immigrants.
Isabel and her lawyer appealed her case to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, they wrote letters to The New York Times to attract attention and gain public support for her case. Isabel González used the letters to show that she was not a vulnerable woman like the courts and the media portrayed her. She pointed out the hypocrisy of Americans. She criticized the United States government for claiming it liberated Puerto Rico from Spain and argued it was acting like a colonizer.
This is an excerpt from the final opinion of the Supreme Court in 1904. The court ruled that the immigration officials should not have treated Isabel as an immigrant. However, they also ruled that Puerto Ricans were not citizens of the United States. Thirteen years later, the United States designated Puerto Rico as a territory through the Jones Act of 1917. From that point on, the United States recognized Puerto Ricans as citizens.