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Georgia DDS Discriminates Against Puerto Rican Driver’s License Applicant

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Georgia DDS Discriminates Against Puerto Rican Driver’s License Applicant

Location: 
Atlanta, GA

CONTACT: Christiaan Perez, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, cperez@latinojustice.org, 212-739-7581; Hannah Riley, Southern Center for Human Rights, hriley@schr.org, 470-867-7530

Georgia DDS Retains Government Documents from Puerto Rico, Detains Applicants Presenting the Documents and Fails to Issue Them Driver’s Licenses

Atlanta, GA - Today, LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of named-Plaintiff Kenneth Caban Gonzalez, a US citizen born in Puerto Rico, and similarly situated individuals, who are challenging the Georgia Department of Driver’s Services’ (DDS) unlawful and discriminatory treatment of American citizens from Puerto Rico. The lawsuit was filed because DDS seizes identity documents presented by these American citizens and fails to make a decision on their applications for driver’s licenses in a timely manner. Sometimes, as DDS did with Caban, these citizens are detained and arrested. 

The lawsuit alleges that Georgia DDS is failing to comply with U.S. Constitutional equal protection requirements by treating these American citizens differently than U.S. mainland-born citizens by not providing them with driver’s licenses and by not giving them a chance for a fair hearing. Further, the lawsuit alleges that Georgia DDS requires Puerto Ricans to undergo extra driver testing, and forces Puerto Rican-born applicants to answer questions about Puerto Rico in order to prove that they are Puerto Rican. They are asked to answer trick questions like the name of an inland city’s non-existent beach, the name of a frog indigenous to Puerto Rico or what a meat filled with plantain fritter is called.

“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. 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.” said Jorge Vasquez, Associate Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

 “Puerto Rican Americans 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,” said Gerry Weber, Senior Attorney at SCHR.   

It has been over 600 days since Mr. Caban Gonzalez applied for a Georgia driver’s license, yet DDS has not issued him a license, returned his documents or offered an explanation as to why he is not eligible for the license. Not having a license makes it very hard for Mr. Caban Gonzalez to find employment in his field (which requires a valid driver’s license), and makes taking his infant daughter to doctor’s appointment, attending to his own medical needs, grocery shopping, having a social life, and much more nearly impossible. Also, driving without a valid license is a criminal offense in Georgia, carrying a minimum fine of $500 and a year of imprisonment.

Background Documents

  1. Caban V. Georgia DDS: Filed Class Action Complaint Regarding Georgia Drivers Licenses for Puerto Ricans

About the Organizations

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LatinoJustice PRLDEF works to create a more just society by using and challenging the rule of law to secure transformative, equitable and accessible justice, by empowering our community and by fostering leadership through advocacy and education. For more than 40 years, LatinoJustice PRLDEF has acted as an advocate against injustices throughout New York and beyond. To learn more about LatinoJustice, visit www.latinojustice.org.

The Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) is working for equality, justice, and dignity in our criminal justice system. The mission of SCHR is to end capital punishment, mass incarceration, and other criminal justice practices that are used to control the lives of poor people, people of color, and other marginalized groups in the Southern United States. They do this through death penalty representation, impact litigation, policy advocacy, and public education.