Georgia Makes Puerto Ricans Answer Questions About Frogs and Plantains to Get a Driver’s License

According to a new lawsuit.

Coqui frog

Norman Shapiro/Honolulu Advertiser via AP

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.

Georgia has been requiring Puerto Rican natives seeking Georgia driver’s licenses to answer a special set of questions such as “identifying ‘what a meat filled with plantain fritter’ is called; where a specific beach is located; and ‘the name of the frog [that is] native only to PR,'” according to a lawsuit filed this week.

The allegations in the complaint, filed in federal court in Atlanta against two top officials at the state’s Department of Driver Services (DDS), suggest that Georgia is singling out Puerto Ricans for questions that resemble the literacy tests used to deny voter registration to African Americans in the Jim Crow South. Without driver’s licenses, Puerto Ricans moving to Georgia will struggle to find jobs and cast a ballot, where a photo ID is required to vote. A growing number of Puerto Ricans continue to leave the island, which has been devastated in recent years by hurricanes and economic crisis, for better opportunities in states like Georgia.

Two civil rights groups, LatinoJustice and the Southern Center for Human Rights, filed the lawsuit on behalf of Kenneth Caban Gonzalez, a Puerto Rican-born US citizen who moved to Georgia in 2017 and tried to obtain a driver’s license. “It has been more than 600 days since Mr. Caban Gonzalez applied for a driver’s license,” the complaint states. “Yet Defendant DDS has not issued him a driver’s license.” 

According to the lawsuit, Caban Gonzalez’s experience was not a one-off occurrence. A DDS directive his attorneys obtained in a public records request shows that DDS has singled out Puerto Ricans for additional requirements to obtain a license, even though they are US citizens. Under this directive, Puerto Rican driver’s licenses do not qualify for the reciprocity that licenses from other states and the District of Columbia receive. Instead, Puerto Ricans must present more documents and pass exams that people from other states are not subjected to; Puerto Rican birth certificates issued before 2010 are not considered proof of identity; and Puerto Rican documents must be retained and reviewed for signs of fraud. And then, of course, there are the bizarre trick questions about the island that Puerto Ricans must answer.

Caban Gonzalez’s lawyers are asking the court to certify the case as a class-action suit to represent other Puerto Ricans being denied licenses in Georgia. 

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.