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Georgia Lawsuit Claims Discrimination Against Puerto Ricans

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  • A lawsuit filed Tuesday claims that the Georgia Department of Driver Services discriminates against people born in Puerto Rico who apply for drivers licenses.
  • The lawsuit claims that, among other things, Puerto-Ricans are forced to take a quiz and answer questions about the island, that requires them to answer questions like “[what is] the name of the frog [that is] native only to PR.”
  • An attorney who works for one of the human rights organizations that filed the suit said the quiz “bears a strikingly disturbing resemblance to the tests applied by segregationists to block voter registration of people of color.”

Lawsuit

Human rights groups filed a lawsuit in Georgia Tuesday, claiming that the state’s Department of Driver Services (DDS) is discriminating against people born in Puerto Rico who apply for drivers licenses

Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, and Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but the lawsuit says the DDS holds people born in Puerto Rico to much stricter requirements than people from other states or Washington, D.C.

The suit claims that DDS requires applicants born in Puerto Rico to take extra driver exams that are not required of other people with out-of-state licenses, and that it will not accept birth certificates issued in Puerto Rico before 2010.

“DDS also requires that accepted birth certificates and other original identity documents submitted by Puerto Rico-born driver’s license applicants be retained and flagged for fraud review,” the lawsuit continued.

The plaintiffs also accuse the department of forcing Puerto Rico-born applicants to “answer questions about the island that are not required of United States mainland-born applicants, including identifying ‘what a meat filled with plantain fritter’ is called; where a specific beach is located; and ‘the name of the frog [that is] native only to PR.’”

The lawsuit states that because of those requirements, the DDS is violating the Civil Rights Act by engaging in “race-based stereotyping and implicit bias against Puerto Ricans.”

Kenneth Caban Gonzalez

The lawsuit was filed by the Southern Center for Human Rights and the advocacy group  LatinoJustice on behalf of a Puerto Rico-born man named Kenneth Caban Gonzalez.

However, it also claims that there are most likely more than 40 people from Puerto Rico who have similar claims. Which, if true, would meet the 40-plaintiff minimum required for a class-action lawsuit.

The defendants are listed as the DDS Commissioner Spencer Moore and a specific DDS employee named James Woo.

According to the lawsuit, Caban Gonzalez applied for a driver’s license in October of 2017, after meeting the state’s 30-day residency requirement.

When he went in to get his license, DDS officials took “his driver’s license, his original birth certificate, and his social security card,” and informed him “that he would be notified when to pick up his original identity documents.”

About a month later, Caban Gonzalez received a text from the defendant James Woo, telling him to go to DDS office for an interview.

When he arrived, he was arrested on one count of first-degree forgery and another count relating to making false statements. The criminal charges are still pending, the lawsuit says.

DDS never gave any of Caban Gonzalez any of identification back, forcing him to get a new birth certificate and social security card.

It has now been 600 days since he applied for the license, the lawsuit states, and the department still has not given him a license or told him why they believe his identity documents were false.

DDS also has not given Caban Gonzalez a hearing on the matter, which he is supposed to be allowed under the law. To make matters more complicated, DDS has not outright denied him a license, which means he cannot appeal the decision.

Caban Gonzalez was eventually given a state ID, but the department did not explain why they considered his identification documents sufficient to issue him a state identification card, but not a driver’s license, despite the fact both have the same documentation requirements.

Even though he has some form of state identification, not having a drivers license has made it hard for him to get a job, take his newborn daughter to the doctor, or make other trips, according to the lawsuit.

Response

After the news of the lawsuit broke, the Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló responded in a statement calling the allegations “absurd.”

“Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and cannot be treated unequally in any U.S. jurisdiction,” Rosselló said.

“If true, I ask Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to address the disturbing irregularities immediately. The U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico cannot be subject to illogical and illegal requirements when procuring government services.” 

A spokesperson for Kemp told Fox News that the Governor had asked DDS to conduct an investigation.

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

A DDS spokesperson told CNN that the department has not formally received the lawsuit yet, and cannot comment on it. However, the spokesperson did say that “the department processes all driver’s license applications in accordance with state and federal law.”

However, the spokesperson did say that “the department processes all driver’s license applications in accordance with state and federal law.”

Additionally, another DDS spokesperson confirmed to CNN that the so-called “quiz” questions come from a document DDS released to comply with an open records request, but add that the quiz “is not an authorized DDS document.” 

CNN also reported that a note on the guide for the quiz stated: “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.”

However, Gerry Weber, a senior attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights, compared the quiz to a Jim-Crow era law. 

“The so-called quiz, applied to Puerto Rican drivers, bears a strikingly disturbing resemblance to the tests applied by segregationists to block voter registration of people of color,” he said.

Weber’s argument references the fact that DDS’ actions and policies affect more than the ability to drive. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, around 700,000 new voters registered through DDS in 2017 and 2018 alone.

Weber argues that if the department is discriminating against Puerto Ricans, they could be preventing them from voting.

Georgia has recently been accused of suppressing the votes of people of color in the last election. An active lawsuit filed in the state is trying to overhaul the state’s entire election system, arguing that it violates the constitutional rights of people of color.

In March, the House Oversight Committee launched an investigation into the allegations of voter suppression in the state.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Fox News) (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Ron DeSantis Faces Lawsuit, Investigation for “Human Trafficking” of Migrants

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A woman only known as “Pearla” allegedly lured the desperate migrants onto planes with monetary incentives and false promises.


A Political Stunt Blows Up in the Governor’s Face

After unexpectedly flying some 50 mostly Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is staring down a class action lawsuit, a local investigation, and a potential probe from the Justice Department.

On Tuesday, Lawyers for Civil Rights, in conjunction with the nonprofit Alianza Americas filed a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of the migrants. The filing names DeSantis, the state of Florida, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue, and their accomplices as defendants.

It alleges they fraudulently induced the migrants to cross state lines to Martha’s Vineyard, where shelter and resources were not prepared.

According to several accounts, the migrants were falsely promised work, free rent, and immigration assistance in exchange for taking the trip.

The migrants are seeking unspecified damages on top of the cost of their legal fees for emotional and economic harm.

On Monday, Texas Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar announced that he was opening an investigation into the migrant flights and DeSantis’s role in the scheme, which he called an “abuse of human rights.”

“They feel that they were deceived in being taken from Bexar County — from San Antonio, Texas — to where they eventually ended up,” he told CNN on Tuesday. “That could be a crime here in Texas and we will handle it as such.”

Salazar also said in a statement that his office was working with private attorneys representing the victims and advocacy organizations and that he was prepared to work with “any federal agency with concurrent jurisdiction, should the need arise.”

Since making the announcement, the sheriff’s office has been bombarded by threats via phone and email, according to a statement by a spokesperson.

Dylan Fernandes, a Massachusetts state lawmaker representing Martha’s Vineyard, called on the DoJ to launch a human trafficking probe into DeSantis Sunday.

He wrote on Twitter about the “inhumane acts,” saying, “Not only is it morally criminal, there are legal implications around fraud, kidnapping, deprivation of liberty, and human trafficking.”

A Mysterious Woman Named Pearla

Several migrants have told reporters, and claimed in the class action lawsuit, that they were lured onto the planes by a tall, blonde woman calling herself Pearla.

She reportedly approached them outside the San Antonio shelter, on the street, and in a McDonald’s parking lot, talking to them in broken Spanish.

Eduardo Linares, a migrant who said he rejected Pearla’s offer, told The Boston Globe that she promised them a free trip to Massachusetts and guaranteed work.

Another migrant named Alejandro told the outlet she offered him three months of free rent, job placement, and help with his immigration case.

The San Antonio Report interviewed a migrant named Emmanuel who said Pearla paid him $200 to recruit other migrants for the flights.

Tuesday’s lawsuit filing elaborates on their claims, saying that they were enticed with $10 McDonald’s gift cards to fly to Boston or Washington.

It alleges that the migrants were rounded up in hotel rooms while the scheme’s organizers gathered enough people to fill two planes, with them sequestered so they could not discuss the plan with anyone else.

“Once the individual Plaintiffs and class members landed, it became clear that the promises made to induce them on the planes were in fact bold-faced lies,” the filing says.

DeSantis defended himself on Fox News Monday night, saying, “They all signed consent forms to go and then the vendor that is doing this for Florida provided them with a packet that had a map of Martha’s Vineyard, it has the number for different services that are on Martha’s Vineyard.”

The brochures given to the migrants, however, listed services for refugees, not asylum seekers, and some migrants have said they weren’t aware of this fact. If the migrants were misled, the participants in the scheme could be criminally liable.

Who Pearla is and who employs her is still unknown, but DeSantis has publically taken credit for chartering the flights.

The League of United Latin American Citizens is offering $5,000 for information leading to the identification, arrest, and conviction of Pearla.

Two days after arriving in Martha’s Vineyard, the migrants voluntarily took shelter in a Cape Cod military base, which is designed for such emergency purposes.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (Vice) (The Boston Globe)

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Is The Pandemic Really Over? Experts Bristle at Biden’s Declaration

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Top Republicans took the president’s words as a signal not to approve any more funds for COVID relief.


The Pandemic’s End

“The pandemic is over,” declared President Joe Biden in a “60 Minutes” interview aired Sunday night.

“We still have a problem with COVID,” he said. “We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over.”

“If you notice, no one is wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape, and so I think it’s changing, and I think this is a perfect example of it,” he added, gesturing around at last week’s Detroit Auto Show, where the interview took place.

The president’s remarks turned many heads among public health experts, who have pointed out that 400 to 500 Americans continue to die from COVID-19 every day.

“We’ve had two million cases reported over the last 28 days, and we know underreporting is substantial,” Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, told The New York Times.

“COVID-19 continues to be the number four cause of death in the country,” he added.

Others argued that the U.S. president does not have the authority to declare a pandemic over. Only the World Health Organization, which first declared the coronavirus a global pandemic in early 2020, holds that power.

“We are not there yet,” WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week. “But the end is in sight.”

To Care or Not to Care: That is the White House’s Question

Biden’s relatively relaxed attitude toward the virus on “60 Minutes” contradicted his administration’s official policy, which aids have been quick to clarify remains the same. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the government’s declaration of a COVID-19 public health emergency, which enables it to waive or modify requirements for health-related programs like Medicare and Medicaid, remains in effect. That designation, however, will be up for renewal on October 13.

The White House has also been pushing Congress to allocate another $22 billion toward fighting the pandemic, but top Republicans said Monday that Biden’s comment declaring the pandemic over essentially shuts the door on further aid.

“If it’s over, then I wouldn’t suspect they need any more money,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tx.) in response Monday.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the ranking Republican member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, added, “I don’t think they were going to get any Covid money through anyway.”

The Biden administration continues to encourage Americans to get the newly authorized “bivalent” COVID-19 booster shot, which provides protection against both the original strain and the omicron subvariants.

The booster shot could prevent as many as 10,000 deaths and 137,000 hospitalizations in the coming months, according to one estimate by Matthew Daley, a physician at Kaiser Permanente Colorado.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everybody over the age of 12, and those who are older, pregnant, immunocompromised, or have a chronic illness, in particular, get the booster as soon as possible. But while most Americans have been vaccinated at least once, less than half have gotten their first booster shot, according to CDC data.

New York Mayor Eric Adams announced Tuesday that vaccine mandates for private employers will end in November, though public employees will still be required to have a vaccine. The day prior, Starbucks also lifted some COVID policies, announcing that its workers will no longer get two weeks of sick pay for coronavirus infections starting on October 2.

In its statement, the company described the pandemic as entering the “endemic” phase.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Washington Post)

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Trump Plays QAnon Music During Conspiracy-Ridden Speech in Ohio

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In recent weeks, the former president has made explicit gestures to QAnon on Truth Social.


The One-Finger Salute Becomes Trump’s Latest Rallying Symbol

In one of his clearest endorsements of the conspiracy theory yet, former president Donald Trump played a QAnon theme song during a rally in Youngstown, Ohio on Saturday.

Trump was there to support Senate candidate JD Vance ahead of November’s midterm elections. As the night’s rally came to a close, the former president delivered an eight-minute monologue while dramatic string music provided ambiance.

Experts identified the song as “WWG1WGA,” an acronym for the QAnon slogan “Where we go one, we go all.”

But Trump aids who spoke to The New York Times claimed it was in fact a song called “Mirrors” by film and TV composer Will Van De Crommer.

“The fake news, in a pathetic attempt to create controversy and divide America, is brewing up another conspiracy about a royalty-free song from a popular audio library platform,” Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich, told the outlet.

When Trump posted a video to Truth Social containing the same music last month, however, music professor David Dominique told Vice the two songs were indistinguishable.

“I have listened to both [‘Mirrors’ and ‘WWG1WGA’] closely several times now,” he said. “And I have 100% professional confidence these recordings are identical, not even a reinterpretation of a composition, but the same recording.”

Media Matters also analyzed the songs using the software Audacity and found their audio profiles to be “virtually identical.”

When the song played on Saturday, dozens of people in the audience saluted with one finger extended in the air, a gesture Trump aids told The Times they have never seen at one of the former president’s rallies before.

The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer, who has a book about QAnon coming out next year, called the salute “curious” in a Twitter thread.

“Some on Twitter are calling it a QAnon salute, with 1 finger for ‘Where we go 1,’ and Trump is playing a pro-Q song as he talks,” he wrote. “I’ve never seen this happen before, though, so if it’s a Q thing it’s new.”

He added the caveat: “The one finger thing might also be for ‘America First.’ The white nationalist groypers, for example, do a one finger salute for that reason.”

Trump Warms to QAnon

QAnon is a conspiracy theory encompassing a wide range of beliefs, but the most common iteration posits that Trump is locked in a secret struggle against a global cabal of Democratic elites and satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles.

The Trump administration generally kept its distance from the movement throughout most of his term, then the former president began to signal his sympathy for it as the 2020 election drew closer.

He congratulated Marjorie Taylor Greene, a prominent politician who has expressed belief in QAnon, for winning Georgia’s GOP primary.

When asked about QAnon a few days later, Trump told the press corps, “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.”

One reporter followed up by asking him specifically about the idea that he was serving as a warrior against a satanic cabal of pedophiles and cannibals, to which Trump replied, “If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it.”

Late last month, the former president created and shared a flurry of posts on Truth Social that were explicitly related to QAnon.

In one, he reposted the slogan “Where We Go One We Go All,” and in another, he reposted a 2017 message from “Q,” the anonymous persona at the center of the conspiracy theory, criticizing the intelligence community. The string of posts came one day after he demanded to be reinstated as president, and just weeks after the FBI executed a search warrant on his Mar-a-Lago estate.

Last week, Trump posted a meme of himself wearing a Q lapel pin with the words “The storm is coming” superimposed over it. In QAnon lore, “the storm” refers to the imminent return of Trump to the White House and subsequent mass arrest of the deep-state cabal.

In May 2021, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) conducted a survey of Americans’ belief in specific QAnon-related conspiracies.

Around 15% of respondents, equivalent to nearly 50 million people if extrapolated to the general population, agreed with the statement: “The government, media and financial world in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.”

See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (The Washington Post) (PBS)

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