IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Georgia fires officials over Puerto Rican denied driver's license, subjected to quiz about island

The state is revamping its policies after an investigation that followed a lawsuit alleging discrimination. “We appreciate DDS taking these abuses seriously," said an attorney.
People wait on line outside the Georgia Department of Driver Services on July 6, 2012 in Atlanta.
People wait on line outside the Georgia Department of Driver Services on July 6, 2012 in Atlanta.John Spink / AP file

The Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) fired a deputy director and demoted another senior manager after an investigation revealed they did not follow agency protocols when a Puerto Rican man living in Georgia was denied a driver's license after having his documents confiscated.

Georgia officials also stated that a "Puerto Rico Interview Guide" used to quiz applicants to see if they were really originally from the U.S. territory was not an authorized document and could not be used.

Some of the discriminatory practices came to light after Kenneth Cabán, a Georgia resident who was born in Puerto Rico, sued the agency during the summer for “unlawful and discriminatory treatment of American citizens from Puerto Rico."

In the lawsuit, Cabán alleged that his original identification documents were confiscated and he was then accused of providing false documents after he applied for a state-issued driver’s license at the agency in Hinesville.

Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and all Puerto Ricans — even those born and raised in the island — are U.S. citizens.

Cabán's documents later proved to be authentic, according to an investigation from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“Kenneth arrived in Georgia to work and support his family and a driver’s license is vital for this in Georgia. Two years later and Kenneth is still waiting for the driver’s license he was unlawfully denied," said Jorge Vasquez, associate counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Latino civil rights organization that helped Cabán bring his case to court. "We must do more to make sure that what happened to Kenneth never happens again."

In the wake of the litigation, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations conducted a probe looking into how the Georgia Department of Driver Services handled documents from Puerto Rico and found that DDS did not follow the appropriate agency protocols when dealing with Cabán.

The "Puerto Rican Interview Guide” was a made-up quiz the agency invented to test Puerto Rican applicants on their island knowledge. It included questions about the meaning of colloquial terms such as “pegao,” or crusty rice, and additional trick questions such as the name of an inland city’s nonexistent beach and how long is the nonexistent train ride between San Juan and Fajardo.

As a result of the investigation, Georgia officials are taking other steps "to prevent similar discrimination from occurring again," said LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

The state is updating Internal policies to provide greater transparency during case management and oversight proceedings and is providing better language access.

Gerry Weber, a senior attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights, who has been working on Cabán's the case alongside LatinoJustice, said the quiz "bears a strikingly disturbing resemblance to the tests applied by segregationists to block voter registration of people of color.

“We appreciate DDS taking these abuses seriously, and are hopeful that discrimination against Puerto Rican applicants will become a thing of the past in Georgia,” said Atteeyah Hollie, senior staff attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights.

Follow NBC Latino on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.