Georgia License Agency Accused of Bias Against Puerto Ricans

(CN) – A class action filed Tuesday accuses Georgia of discriminating against Puerto Rican driver’s license applicants by subjecting them to more administrative obstacles than those born in the mainland U.S.

The lawsuit filed in Atlanta federal court by attorneys with LatinoJustice and the Southern Center for Human Rights alleges Georgia’s Department of Driver’s Services requires Puerto Rican applicants to undergo extra testing and document reviews not required for other U.S. citizens.

The lead plaintiff is Kenneth Caban Gonzalez, who says he moved from Puerto Rico to Hinesville, Georgia, two years ago seeking a better life.

After meeting a 30-day residency requirement, Gonzalez submitted an application for a Georgia driver’s license on Oct. 31, 2017, but his request was never approved even though he handed over all necessary documentation, according to the complaint.

Though he was later able to receive a state identification card, Gonzalez claims the agency never returned his old driver’s license, his original birth certificate or his Social Security card, and never explained why he was ineligible for a driver’s license.

Georgia Department of Driver Services Commissioner Spencer Moore is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which claims Gonzalez’s experience is not an isolated incident. Moore’s office did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment.

Jorge Vásquez, associate counsel with the LatinoJustice Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, said in a statement Tuesday that Puerto Ricans moving to Georgia “deserve access to the same benefits that are afforded to other citizens of the United States.”

“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.” Vásquez said.

The lawsuit claims the Department of Driver’s Services asks Puerto Rican applicants questions related to the island, including identifying “what a meat filled with plantain fritter” is called and the name of the frog that is only native only to Puerto Rico.

Gerry Weber, senior attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights, said in a statement that Puerto Ricans “are not second-rate citizens and should be treated with the respect afforded every American.”

“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.

The state agency is also accused of flagging birth certificates and other identifying documents from Puerto Rican applicants for fraud review.

Furthermore, a driver’s license or identification card issued in Puerto Rico does not have the same reciprocity that Georgia extends to those issued by any other state or the District of Columbia, the complaint states.

“DDS’ policies and practices subject impacted Puerto Rico-born applicants to irreparable harm by depriving them of a protectible property interest in a driver’s license that affords them an ability to drive to work, medical appointments, religious worship, educational opportunities, to visit family, to live independently, to secure employment, and to engage in other important activities of daily living,” the lawsuit states.

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