The Department of Driver Services no longer uses the test, though it’s unclear when it stopped. Documents show it was used as recently as two years ago.
Top agency officials have denied knowing about it. In a written statement, Commissioner Spencer Moore said the test “should never be used by DDS staff, under any circumstances, and it is not an authorized DDS document.”
The interview guide included dozens of questions designed to test applicants' knowledge of Puerto Rico. 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").
But a Puerto Rico expert told the AJC last summer some of the answers are incorrect. One example: The correct answer to the question “Who is the current governor of Puerto Rico?” is listed as Pedro Rossello, who left office in 2001.
An AJC investigation found the interview guide originated the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service, the law enforcement arm of the State Department. An introduction to the guide says it was used "to assess the validity of claims to U.S. citizenship by birth in Puerto Rico."
The use of fake Puerto Rican birth certificates to obtain driver’s licenses and other benefits has been a serious problem for years. But the newspaper found Georgia went to unusual lengths to combat such fraud – efforts that civil rights advocates say are discriminatory.
The DDS says the interview guide was provided to investigators sometime before 2003. But many details – including who provided it and when investigators began using it – remain uncertain.
The GBI interviewed 21 current and former DDS employees, including many who investigated Puerto Ricans applying for driver’s licenses and I.D. cards. Most said they’d been given the test by a supervisor or co-worker when they first started working at the agency.
One investigator told the GBI he’d used the interview guide “a couple of hundred” times. Others said they’d used it dozens of times, while a few said they hadn’t seen or used the test or had seldom used it.
Investigators told the GBI they used random questions from the test or only certain portions of it when conducting interviews.
One investigator told the GBI he found the test “very helpful.” He said it “assisted him in making a number of arrests for people that were purporting to be from Puerto Rico but actually they were from another country.”
But the GBI report cites one case in which “failing” the test contributed to the arrest of an applicant who was later cleared of wrongdoing.
In 2017, the man applied for a Georgia I.D. card at the DDS Hinesville office. When interviewed by investigators, he answered 11 of 18 test questions incorrectly. The investigator who interviewed him sent his Puerto Rican birth certificate and other documents to a supervisor for examination. Both investigators believed the documents were fake. DDS officials later arrested and charged the applicant with forgery.
But the U.S. Department of Homeland Security later determined the applicant’s birth certificate and Social Security card were authentic. His Puerto Rican I.D. card could not be authenticated – but only because the department lacked a genuine I.D. card with which to compare it.
DDS later issued the applicant a Georgia I.D. card and – after 19 months – dropped the charges against him. The applicant could not be reached for comment.
His one-time roommate was Kenneth Caban Gonzalez, who was also arrested and charged with forgery and making false statements after applying for a driver's license. DDS later dropped the charges after Homeland Security authenticated his documents.
It was Caban Gonzalez who filed the federal lawsuit last summer. Though he did not take the test, the lawsuit cites the department's use of the it as part of a pattern of alleged discrimination.
“There is no reason to subject a U.S. citizen to another layer of scrutiny that they don’t subject other U.S. citizens to,” said Romero-Craft, his attorney.
When the GBI provided its findings earlier this month, DDS fired one manager and demoted another. DDS said the managers did not follow appropriate protocols during the investigation of Caban Gonzalez.
A DDS spokeswoman said the department is not aware of other incidents in which the failure to answer questions on the Puerto Rico interview guide contributed to the improper denial of a driver’s license or I.D. card.
When asked for more details about how long the interview guide was used, she said by email: “We are not aware, as this document was not approved by Commissioner Moore or his leadership team. Team members were directed not to use this doc upon being made aware of its existence.
“We are unable to comment further,” the spokeswoman said.
In July, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Georgia goes to unusual lengths to curtail fraud involving Puerto Rican birth certificates – lengths that left it vulnerable to civil rights complaints. In September, the AJC reported that Department of Driver Services investigators declined to drop fraud charges against Puerto Rico native Kenneth Caban Gonzalez long after it was apparent the case against him was flawed. This week the newspaper examines the department’s use of a test used to screen Puerto Ricans who sought licenses when they moved to Georgia.