Puerto Rico governor asks Kemp to end ‘disturbing’ license policy

A lawsuit says the Georgia Department of Driver Services illegally discriminates against Puerto Ricans applying for Georgia driver’s licenses.

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A lawsuit says the Georgia Department of Driver Services illegally discriminates against Puerto Ricans applying for Georgia driver’s licenses.

The governor of Puerto Rico has asked Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to address “disturbing irregularities” cited in a lawsuit that claims the state discriminates against Puerto Rico natives who apply for driver’s licenses.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, claims the Georgia Department of Driver Services illegally treats U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico differently than others applying for driver's licenses.

Among other things, the lawsuit says the department fails to award licenses in a timely manner and requires Puerto Ricans to take extra driver tests and to answer “trick” questions about Puerto Rico to prove they are from the U.S. territory.

The department says it complies with state and federal laws. Nonetheless, the lawsuit drew the attention of Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello on Wednesday.

“This is absurd. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and cannot be treated unequally in any U.S. jurisdiction,” Rosello said in a 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 statement said. “The U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico cannot be subject to illogical and illegal requirements when procuring government services.”

A Kemp spokeswoman said the governor expects state employees to follow the law “and treat every constituent with dignity and respect.”

“Our team has spoken with DDS Commissioner Spencer Moore and asked him to conduct a full investigation into these claims,” said the spokeswoman, Candice Broce. “Given that this matter involves pending litigation, we will decline to further discuss any specifics involving this case.”

The lawsuit cites a Department of Driver Services directive requiring the personal documents of Puerto Ricans to be reviewed for fraud. Unlike other out-of-state applicants, they also must successfully pass knowledge and road exams before a license is issued.

According to the lawsuit, the department also requires applicants born in Puerto Rico to answer questions about the island not asked of mainland residents.

A copy of the department’s “Puerto Rican interview guide” — obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution — includes dozens of potential questions Puerto Ricans can be asked. Among them: “What is the name of the frog native only to PR?” “What is El Morro?” and “Who/what owns most of Vieques?” (The respective answers, according to the guide: “Coqui,” “A Spanish fort built in the 1600’s, in Old San Juan” and “U.S. Navy”).

“While this guide can in no way positively determine if a person was born in or lived in Puerto Rico, it will help determine if the individual has a normal base of knowledge of their claimed birthplace,” an introduction to the guide states. “The majority of Puerto Ricans should be able to answer a large portion of these questions and identify words, the flag, home-town photos and locations without hesitation.”

U.S. citizens moving from other states and the District of Columbia are not required to answer similar questions when they obtain a Georgia driver’s license. The lawsuit says such disparate treatment violates equal protection, due process, and civil rights provisions of federal law and the U.S. Constitution.