Kenneth Caban Gonzalez moved from Puerto Rico to Georgia in 2017 and applied, after the required 30 days, for a Georgia drivers license. So far, it’s a simple story. As U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans can move freely from Puerto Rico to any state, and can of course acquire a drivers license by applying in the usual way.
But Caban Gonzalez did not have the usual experience. Officials confiscated the documents he used to prove his identity, and quizzed him on Island-themed trivia. They wanted to make sure that he knew about the coqui and Roberto Celemente, to say nothing of trick questions like, “Where is Caguas beach?”.
There is no beach in Caguas.
In all, there were 43 questions. Caban Gonzalez was arrested for forgery, and his documents were not returned for more than 600 days.Without a driver’s license, he was hindered from working, getting medical care, or attending a place of worship.
He is not the only individual to face this problem. Gerry Weber, Senior Attorney for the Southern Center for Human Rights told NPR that this experience was not hazing by an individual, but was established as a policy in 2017. Officials use a “DDS Puerto Rican Interview Guide” to quiz people from Puerto Rico, in addition to all the normal tests required for a driver’s license.
A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Caban Gonzalez, alleging that Georgia violated the Civil Rights Ace by setting extra criteria for people from Puerto Rico to get their licenses.
One state cannot set different rules for people who come from another state, and the lawsuit is expected to confirm that this applies to Puerto Rico as well.
Georgia’s Department of Driver’s Services has not given a reason for the special “interview guide,” but Salon suggests that it could be intended to distinguish between Puerto Ricans, who can legally move to Georgia and get a driver’s license, and people from Mexico or Honduras who might not be able to do so.
If someone from Mexico decides to pretend to be Puerto Rican in order to appear to be a U.S. citizen, the thinking goes, a question about Puerto Rican fritters will unmask him.
The Georgia DDS does not confirm that this is the reason for the special interview, but the Interview Guide does specify that it is intended to avoid fraud. The special interview is not designated as a step to take for all Latino applicants or for suspected forgeries, but for all individuals from Puerto Rico.
Individuals from other states are not asked to prove their knowledge of regional trivia.
Governor Rossello of Puerto Rico called the story “absurd” and “disturbing,” and asked Georgia’s Governor Kemp to investigate. Kemp called on the head of the DDS to make a full investigation.
While the story is both absurd and disturbing, it is yet another indication of the level of ignorance about Puerto Rico often found in the States. Some Americans are not aware that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.
The case of Eduardo Caraballo, a Chicago man born in Puerto Rico who was threatened with deportation, included a similar interview. Caraballo was asked trivia questions about Puerto Rico by Chicago police. Since he left Puerto Rico at the age of eight months, he was unable to answer the questions correctly. The officers threatened to deport him to Mexico.