A Puerto Rican man sued the state of Georgia on June 25, claiming the state is unfairly testing Puerto Ricans knowledge of the island when applying for a state driver’s license and withholding their identification. The man says he has waited 600 days to receive his license but has still not gotten it. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution released the 43 potential questions that the Department of Driver Services could ask Puerto Rican applicants, containing several seemingly trick questions.
The discriminatory actions taken by DDS toward Puerto Rican applicants are emblematic of a larger issue. Despite Puerto Ricans’ status as U.S. citizens, they often do not receive the same level of treatment or concern that most U.S. citizens do.
Normally, when transferring an out-of-state driver’s license to Georgia, an applicant must submit their current driver’s license and documentation of their identity, address, social security number and U.S. citizenship or proof of lawful residence. According to the lawsuit, plaintiff Kenneth Caban Gonzalez complied with those rules but had to answer questions about amphibians and cuisine of Puerto Rico in addition to get governmental services.
Though the accusations in the lawsuit feel shocking, the United States often sees Puerto Ricans as second-class citizens.
The government often ignores Puerto Rico’s needs. Nothing underscores this more than the government’s failure for years to take proper action in helping Puerto Rico after the devastating impact of Hurricane Maria in 2017. Even now, Puerto Rico has not received the amount of support it needs to recover.
Perhaps the United States would take Puerto Rico’s problems more seriously if the island were a state. In 2017, the territory approved statehood in a referendum. Despite low turnout, 97% of voters said Puerto Rico should be a state.
Instead of listening to what Puerto Ricans want — statehood — and possibly assuaging the issues seen in the Georgia driver’s licenses, the federal government turned Puerto Rican statehood into a political issue. After Puerto Rican statehood gained support in the House of Representatives, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell bragged he would kill the legislation, in part because it would give the Democrats two more Senators.
The situation described in the lawsuit against the Georgia DDS is disturbing. To solve the root of the problem, we need to listen to Puerto Ricans and treat them as we would any other Americans.