Attorney General Denise George announces the filing of an amicus brief by the Virgin Islands Government in the United States Supreme Court, challenging unequal and discriminatory treatment against Virgin Islands residents in Social Security Insurance (SSI) and other federal benefits. SSI is a federal program that provides financial help to disabled adults and children who have limited income and resources and is available to U.S. citizens, however it is not available to U.S. Citizens who reside in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and other “unincorporated” territories, merely because of where they live.
On September 9th the Virgin Islands amicus brief was filed in the U.S. Supreme Court case, United States v. Vaello-Madero, arguing in support of Madero, a disabled Puerto Rico resident’s fight against the federal government’s denial and withdrawal of his SSI benefits when he moved back to Puerto Rico from the mainland.
AG George said, “Soon after I took office in mid-2019, Governor Bryan expressed to me his dismay that Virgin Islands residents who are U.S. citizens were not equally entitled to SSI benefits as their stateside counterparts. The Madero case being argued before the Supreme Court now presented the perfect opportunity for us to do something about it by joining the court fight against unequal treatment by the federal government in SSI and other federal programs.”
Unlike the states, the constitutional rights and equality of U.S. citizens do not automatically apply to unincorporated territories. Instead, the civil and constitutional rights of the inhabitants of such territories like the Virgin Islands, are determined by an Act of Congress, such as our Revised Organic Act. As stated in the GVI’s amicus brief, the disparate treatment by the federal government of unincorporated territories is grounded historically in the racial and cultural bias of the United States against inhabitants of the territories, beginning about 1901 in a series of racially charged Supreme Court Decisions called the Insular Cases. The GVI’s amicus brief supports Madero in the case and asks the court to reverse the insular cases and afford equal treatment and equal protection to Virgin Islanders and other inhabitants of “unincorporated” territories in SSI and other federal benefits, AG George said.
United States v. Vaello-Madero will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in its upcoming 2021-2022 term. The counsel of record representing the V.I. Government is Geoffrey Eaton, Esquire of Winston and Strawn, LLC.