Georgia’s Problematic “Puerto Rico Knowledge Test” for Drivers Licenses

Civil rights advocates filed suit against the Georgia Department of Driver Services for asking Puerto Ricans “trick” questions from this guide. / DDS

Seems a lot like a poll test aimed at Puerto Ricans in Georgia, only not for voting but for obtaining drivers licenses.

Puerto Ricans who want to obtain a Georgia driver’s license apparently may be subjected to a test of their knowledge of Puerto Rico from a set of 43 questions that the state’s Department of Driver Services (DDS) was silly enough to publish in a booklet.

Civil rights advocacy groups LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the Southern Center for Human Rights sued on behalf of Kenneth Cabán González, who was born in Puerto Rico and has been waiting two years for a Georgia driver’s license.

The suit charges that DDS is violating Cabán’s and many others’ due process, equal protection and civil rights provisions of federal law and the U.S. Constitution.

The case has drawn the attention of Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who issued this statement: “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 U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico cannot be subject to illogical and illegal requirements when procuring government services.”

DDS asserts the guide was never put into use and Kemp administration stated it’s conducting an investigation into the claims.

Georgia, like Florida, has reciprocity with other states allowing newcomers to transfer their old driver’s licenses. In Florida, for example, newcomers are required to do so within 30 days of establishing residence here.

In Cabán’s case, he is still waiting for his Georgia driver’s license and the return of his Puerto Rico birth certificate and Social Security card, which DDS says are fraudulent. Oddly, the department later issued Cabán a state ID card when he supplied a new birth certificate and Social Security card.

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, DDS has a directive requiring Puerto Rico documents be reviewed for fraud. Truth be told, until about 2010 federal concern about fraudulent Puerto Rico documents was so high it culminated in a Department of Homeland Security requirement for nearly everyone born on the island to obtain a new, secure birth certificate.

It did so because many Puerto Rico government agencies used to require copies of birth certificates to complete the most innocuous transactions, and many certificates wound up on the black market.

A Puerto Rico birth certificate essentially confers American citizenship, since all persons born in Puerto Rico are Americans by birth. Undocumented immigrants were eager buyers. But this issue has been resolved.

Georgia’s “Puerto Rico Interview Guide” dates to the 1990s, based on the questions asked, and was “prepared to assist Special Agents and Fraud Prevention Coordinators investigate the validity of claims to U.S. Citizenship by birth in Puerto Rico.” It adds that the majority of Puerto Ricans should be able to answer “a large portion” of the questions.

The guide includes a map of Puerto Rico with its 43 questions broken down by region, so if a birth certificate claims the holder was born in, say, Mayaguez, s/he better know something about the area. It asks:

  • “What is the name of the airport in Aguadilla and what did it used to be?”
  • What company is the largest employer in Mayaguez (on Mayaguez Bay)?
  • Name the island close to Mayaguez.

Among the commonly used vocabulary words are nene (child), mahones (jeans), pantallas (earrings) and chiringa (kite), comparing them with words used … in the Dominican Republic.

Clearly, then, the guide was aimed at distinguishing Dominicans from Puerto Ricans. It was created over concern about fraudulent Puerto Rico documents. And it discriminates against Latinos in general because no other persons undergo such scrutiny.

Georgia’s concern about birth certificates could be resolved by not requiring birth certificates. Punto.

Florida, for instance, only asks for a secondary form of ID, which could include a certified proof of birth, a Social Security card, an insurance policy, or a marriage certificate, among others.

If Georgia is so concerned about Dominicans passing themselves off as Puerto Ricans, it should forward the matter to immigration, the proper agency to handle such questions.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

UPDATE: A number of Department of Driver Services workers were fired for their handling of the case involving Kenneth Cabán González, whose drivers license was withheld for years, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. It was a bigger mess than at first imagined, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation uncovered serious problems with DDS’ treatment of Cabán. New procedures have been implemented and the “Puerto Rico knowledge test” is no more. As for the “fraudulent documents” that Cabán was alleged to have provided, the federal Department of Homeland Security ascertained they were authentic. Read the full story in the Atlantic Journal Constitution, which stayed with the story and conducted its own investigation. •

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