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Puerto Ricans Win Right to Transfer Their Driver’s Licenses in Georgia

Kenneth Cabán Gonzalez, a U.S. citizen born and raised in Puerto Rico, can finally transfer his Puerto Rican driver’s license to Georgia without having to undergo exams not required of U.S. citizens born on the mainland. As a result of the lawsuit – filed on behalf of Mr. Cabán Gonzalez and other similarly situated Puerto Ricans residing in Georgia — the Georgia Department of Driver Services has introduced a series of reforms that will allow Puerto Ricans in Georgia to transfer their driver’s licenses. DDS will also cease administering a so-called “Puerto Rico Interview Guide” which tested U.S. citizens born in Puerto Rico on various statistics and facts to prove themselves Puerto Rican. 

Kenneth Caban Gonzalez, his family, and two of his attorneys (Atteeyah Hollie and Kira Romero-Craft) pose with his new driver’s license.

In October 2017, when Mr. Cabán Gonzalez visited the Georgia DDS office in Hinesville to obtain a Georgia driver’s license, DDS officials withheld his driver’s license, social security card, and birth certificate and initiated an investigation against him for allegedly submitting false identity documents. Days later, DDS officials arrested Mr. Cabán Gonzalez, held him in jail for three days and charged him with fraud and forgery felonies which remained pending until March 2019, when the charges were finally dropped. During that time, DDS learned that the procedures it used to determine the authenticity of Mr. Cabán Gonzalez’s documents were outdated, and the Department of Homeland Security’s lab analysis verified that Mr. Cabán Gonzalez’s identity documents were genuine. Despite these developments, DDS did not return his license, birth certificate, or social security card, nor was he issued a Georgia driver’s license. DDS emails later revealed that several individuals, including high ranking officials, knew for months that Mr. Cabán Gonzalez’s identity documents had been authenticated, yet they failed to act on the information. DDS later fired or demoted those officials. 

Today’s legal victory is the result of class action litigation filed by LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the Southern Center for Human Rights. The reforms being enacted will finally afford Puerto Ricans the same privileges as other U.S. Citizens in Georgia: the ability to obtain a driver’s license, to drive to work, vote, and carry out countless other necessary tasks, while also ensuring their constitutional rights are no longer being violated.

Prior to the lawsuit, Georgia DDS required Puerto Ricans to undergo extra driver testing, and forced Puerto Rican-born applicants to answer questions about the island. They would be 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.

“We appreciate DDS’ efforts to end discriminatory policies that treated Puerto Rican applicants like second-class citizens. We trust that these reforms will bring relief and hope to Georgia’s growing Puerto Rican community,” said Atteeyah Hollie, Senior Attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights.  

“I am excited that I can finally transfer my driver’s license from Puerto Rico to Georgia. I am forever thankful to my family for supporting me and helping me get to and from work while I was waiting for a decision in this case. I am eager to complete this chapter in my life and be able to give back to the family who has given me so much,” Mr. Cabán Gonzalez said.