Pictures: Puerto Rico governor pushes statehood at Kissimmee town hall

By Paula Machado and Jerry Hume, Team Coverage
Last Updated: Friday, January 12, 2018, 7:15 PM EST

Hundreds turned out Friday to see the governor of Puerto Rico and hear what he and Florida leaders are doing to help the island and Hurricane Maria evacuees who have relocated to the mainland.

  • Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló hosts town hall in Kissimmee
  • Large crowd turned out to talk relocation, jobs
  • Sen. Nelson, Gov. Rick Scott, Rep. Darren Soto also in attendance
  • Rosselló would like for Puerto Rico to become 51st state
  • RELATED: Hurricane Maria impact

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s first visit to Kissimmee comes as Florida grapples with how to handle the more than 300,000 Puerto Ricans who have evacuated.

Amid a full house at the Kissimmee Civic Center, Rosselló used the opportunity to continue pushing for Puerto Rico to become a state.

"We are proud U.S. citizens. We have highest participation rate for military, and we have been in this ambiguous stage for a century now," Rossello said.

During the town hall meeting, Rosselló took a serious political tone, expressing that he's not satisfied with how Puerto Rico has been treated after Hurricane Maria, and not to be surprised come election time.

“Those of us that live there, don’t have the political power, but guess what? Those of you that live here do," Rossello said.

Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory for more than a century now, meaning residents from the island are U.S. citizens, but if you live there, you can’t vote.

But all the Puerto Ricans who’ve moved to Central Florida after Hurricane Maria will be able to register to vote in upcoming elections.

In front of hundreds of people, the governor of Puerto Rico made it clear: They will remember who’s taken action to help with the island’s recovery.

“Everyone in Congress knows that if you turn your back on the people of Puerto Rico, the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico... there will be consequences,” he said.

During a news conference in Washington, D.C., this week, he said the only way to guarantee Puerto Rico will get equal rights, equal benefits and equal responsibilities is through statehood. Puerto Rico is an unincorporated U.S. territory, and its people are U.S. citizens.

“We have unfortunately, a second class citizenship in Puerto Rico,” Rosselló said.

He also heard from those displaced by Maria and now living in Florida, as well as the struggles they now face, such as finding housing, health care, education and jobs.

“I want Puerto Rico to be happy again. There’s been a lot of grief after the storm, a lot of economic problems, a lot of rejection," said Ivonne LaJara, a Kissimmee resident. "People in senates go there and say something and then come here and vote for other things, and we would like to be in the same channel... to get together for hope for Puerto Rico.”

Thousands of families have left Puerto Rico and moved to Central Florida following Hurricane Maria, which struck the island in September 2017.

"He also does want to have the opportunity to hear directly from the community here to answer their questions and to provide them with feedback to let them know what are the things that he’s doing that are addressing their specific concerns," said Deputy Director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration George Laws Garcia.

Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Rep. Darren Soto and Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez also appeared with Rosselló.

“All of us that have had the opportunity to travel there, it’s just devastating,” Scott said.

Two more rooms had to be opened to accommodate the large crowds, who also got a chance to ask the governor of Puerto Rico some questions.

Replay of live updates

Live Blog LIVE UPDATES: Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello in Kissimmee