Lawsuit Alleges Georgia Is Discriminating Against Puerto Ricans

A new lawsuit in Georgia claims the state has been discriminating against Puerto Ricans who attempt to obtain driver’s licenses. The suit alleges that the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) quizzes Puerto Rican Americans and then seizes their documents without explanation.The Southern Center of Human Rights (SCHR) and LatinoJustice PRLDEF, formerly known as the Puerto Rico Legal Defense and Education Fund, filed the lawsuit on July 2 on behalf of US citizen Kenneth Caban Gonzalez, who was born in Puerto Rico but moved to Georgia. After moving to the state, Caban Gonzalez applied for a driver’s license in 2017 and gave DDS his birth certificate, social security card, and Puerto Rican license.

In November 2017, Caban Gonzalez was arrested and accused of providing falsified documents to the DDS. He was charged with one count of first degree forgery and one count of “false statements and writing, concealment of facts and fraudulent documents in matters within jurisdiction of state or political subdivisions.”More than 600 days after first applying for a Georgia license, Caban Gonzalez has yet to receive a new license or his documents back, the suit claims. In a statement to The North Star, SCHR said that Caban Gonzalez has had difficulties finding a construction job without a driver’s license. Not having a license has also made it hard to go grocery shopping, take his infant daughter to the doctors, or have a social life.

In June 2018, Caban Gonzalez was able to obtain a new birth certificate from Puerto Rico and social security card. He was then able to apply for a REAL ID compliant Georgia (non-driver) identification card.Due to an apparent DDS policy, Puerto Rico-born applicants are denied notice and an opportunity for a hearing. This practice therefore denied Caban Gonzalez due process allowed by law, the suit said.

“Puerto Ricans who are trying to start a new life in Georgia deserve access to the same benefits that are afforded to other citizens of the United States,” Jorge Vasquez, associate counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF, said in a statement. “We believe that across Georgia there are many Puerto Ricans who face the same kind of intimidation that Kenneth experienced, and we cannot allow for this kind of overt discrimination to take place.”The suit also claims that a DDS directive requires Puerto Rican-born applicants to answer questions about the island that are not required of other American applicants. These questions include topics such as an inland city’s non-existent beach or the name of a frog indigenous to Puerto Rico.

“Georgia DDS isn’t asking a Texan who moves to Georgia what the state bird of Texas is, or who a baseball stadium in Houston is named after, or seizing their ID documents,” SCHR’s Hannah Riley told The North Star.

“We’re asking — and expecting — the state of Georgia to treat Puerto Rican American citizens the same way they would any other American citizen.”

Gerry Weber, senior attorney at SCHR, said that Puerto Rican Americans are not second-class citizens and deserve to be treated just like all other Americans. “The so-called quiz applied to Puerto Rican drivers, bears a strikingly disturbing resemblance to the tests applied by segregationists to block voter registration of people of color,” Weber said.

It is unclear how many people have been affected by these practices, but the lawsuit has already caught the attention of Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló. “This is absurd,” Rosselló said of the allegations. “Puerto Ricans are US citizens and cannot be treated unequally in any US jurisdiction. The Government of Puerto Rico takes these allegations very seriously and, if true, I ask Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to address the disturbing irregularities immediately. The US citizens of Puerto Rico cannot be subject to illogical and illegal requirements when procuring government services.”According to the US Census Bureau, there are nearly 72,000 residents of Puerto Rican descent living in Georgia.

A spokesperson with DDS told NBC News that the department has not received the complaint. “All instances including those for applicants from Puerto Rico are handled in accordance with Georgia Statute and Federal Real ID requirements.”

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.