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Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson on Sunday advocated for Puerto Rico to become the 51st state.
"When you stop and think about it Puerto Ricans have been Americans for a century or more already," Carson said at a rally on the island for Ricky Rosselló, a gubernatorial candidate in Puerto Rico's New Progressive pro-statehood party.
"You’ve already paid your dues," Carson told a cheering crowd. "There have probably been more patriotic Puerto Ricans than any other state. Look at all the contributions that have been made to America."
Puerto Rico faces a debilitating $72 billion-dollar debt, but Carson said during the rally Sunday that the U.S. commonwealth's debt stems from an "un-level playing field."
"If we start treating them like we do everybody else the debts will get much better," Carson said. "Hawaii and Alaska also had debt ... until things took off and that will happen here as well."
Carson said statehood for Puerto Rico was also a logical defense move because of its location. "We need unity. We need to be working together and not against each other," Carson said.
Puerto Rican citizens cannot vote in the general election, but they can participate in primary elections.
Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have also endorsed statehood for Puerto Rico. About 5 million Puerto Ricans live in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center.