- 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.”
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.
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)
New York City Moves to Ban Cashless Businesses
- New York City’s Council passed a bill on Thursday that prohibits businesses from going cashless.
- Supporters argue this approach discriminates against low-income groups, undocumented individuals, and people of color who are less likely to have bank accounts.
- Meanwhile, opponents of the cashless ban argue it is more convenient for workers to only deal with digital transactions.
- If New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio approves the bill, businesses will face a fine for refusing to accept cash as payment.
- San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New Jersey all approved cashless bans in businesses last year.
Cashless Ban Approved by City Council
New York City’s Council approved a bill on Thursday that bans businesses from going cashless.
The measure was almost unanimously passed and is an effort to decrease discrimination of low-income groups, undocumented individuals, and people of color who are less likely to have bank accounts or access to credit.
Councilmember Ritchie Torres was the bill’s lead sponsor.
“We in the City Council have real concerns that an increasingly cashless marketplace could have a real-world discriminatory effect on low-income communities, especially communities of color, that lack access to credit and debit,” Torres said at a press conference right before the bill was passed.
Just over 11% of households in New York — about 354,000 — do not have a bank account, according to a 2019 report by New York City’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. An additional 21.8% of households are underbanked, meaning they have a bank account but use alternative financial methods for some needs.
Torres also noted that even those who do have access to bank accounts might still prefer cash because of its familiarity and its nature of allowing more privacy.
“Whatever your reasons, consumers should have the power to choose their preferred method of payment,” Torres said.
If the bill is approved by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, restaurants, stores, and other retail outlets will be required to accept cash as payment. If any businesses do refuse hard currency, they will be subject to a fine of $1,000 and $1,500 for each following offense.
Businesses will have the option of adopting cash conversion machines as long as the machines do not charge any extra fees. In the case that one of these machines is not working, the business must directly accept cash.
A spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio told The New York Times on Wednesday that he supported “the intent” of the bill, but still planned to go over it.
Cashless Ban Movement
New York City is the latest to pass legislation prohibiting businesses from refusing cash. In 2019, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New Jersey all approved these bans for similar reasons.
While many are in favor of cashless bans, the idea has received pushback from others. Business owners have argued the method is more convenient for their workers. Leo Kremer, co-founder of the Dos Toros Taqueria chain that runs through New York City, has previously expressed this take.
“We are only interested in being cashless because it allows us to make our restaurant more seamless,” Kremer said at a hearing on the bill in February.
Kalman Yeger, a councilman from Brooklyn, thought those who voted for the bill were “overreaching.”
“We are inserting ourselves in the business of business in a way that we don’t have the right to,” Yeger told The New York Times.
See what others are saying: (ABC) (The New York Times) (Guardian)
U.S. Announces New Visa Rule Targeting “Birth Tourism”
- The Department of State unveiled a new rule aiming to stop pregnant women from coming to the U.S. to give birth so their children get American citizenship.
- The rule states that this practice — commonly referred to as “birth tourism” — “poses risks to national security.”
- The new regulation allows consular officers to deny visas to visitors if they believe they’re traveling to the U.S. for this purpose.
- It also requires those traveling to the U.S. for medical purposes to prove to consular officers that they can pay for the treatment they seek.
- The changes will go into effect as of Friday, Jan. 24.
Crackdown on Birth Tourism
The U.S. Department of State announced on Thursday plans to stop pregnant women from entering the country to give birth so their children are granted American citizenship, a practice commonly referred to as “birth tourism.”
Under the new rule, consular officers can deny visas to visitors if they believe their travel to the country is primarily for this purpose.
“The Department considers birth tourism an inappropriate basis for the issuance of temporary visitor visas,” the rule states.
The visas that this new regulation covers are those categorized as “B nonimmigrant visas,” issued for pleasure, medical purposes, or to visit friends or family.
“This rule reflects a better policy, as birth tourism poses risks to national security,” the Department of State said in the document. “The birth tourism industry is also rife with criminal activity, including international criminal schemes.”
By the law of the 14th Amendment, “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”
President Donald Trump has spoken out about his disapproval of this policy before. In the past, he has called it a “magnet for illegal immigration,” and last August he expressed his wish to remove it.
The State Department’s new rule will officially take effect on Friday, Jan. 24. It will only affect those from countries who need a visa to visit the United States.
In addition to cracking down on birth tourism, the State Department’s new rule also tightens qualifications for those seeking medical treatment in the U.S.
It requires that those seeking a nonimmigrant visa for this reason “must demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the consular officer,” their ability to pay for their sought-after medical services, as well as proof that a medical practitioner has already agreed to help.
Reactions to the New Rule
After the Department of State’s new rule was made public, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham gave it her nod of approval.
“It will also defend American taxpayers from having their hard-earned dollars siphoned away to finance the direct and downstream costs associated with birth tourism,” Grisham said in a statement. “The integrity of American citizenship must be protected.”
Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona tweeted a link to The New York Times article on the story and added a simple word of support: “Good.”
Others, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, were not happy about the change.
“This administration is now targeting pregnant. women.” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “When you single out the most vulnerable, the cruelty is the point.”
Supreme Court Hears Landmark Case Regarding Scholarships for Religious Schools
- The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a potential landmark case that could allow religious schools to receive publicly-funded scholarships, even if a state’s constitution says they can’t.
- The case involves a Montana program that was ended after the state realized it was unintentionally being used to aid religious schools using taxpayer money.
- Opponents argue that the provision, which prohibits public funds from going to religious organizations, is rooted in religious discrimination.
Montana Sparks Lawsuit After Ending Scholarship Program
The Supreme Court of the United States began hearing Wednesday what could potentially be a landmark case concerning the separation of church and state for schools.
Specifically, the Court is considering a case out of Montana that could allow religious schools to receive publicly-funded scholarships, even if a state’s constitution prohibits such a move.
The situation that now sits upon SCOTUS’s doorstep began in 2015 when the Montana state legislature created a tax-credit program for people wanting to donate to a scholarship fund.
That program allowed people to donate dollar-for-dollar tax credits up to $150.
An organization named Big Sky then capitalized on the program and created a fund to help parents wanting to send their children to private schools; however, there was a catch: 12 of the 13 schools that Big Sky sent money to were religious. In fact, about 70% of private schools in the state are religious schools.
Those donations directly conflict with Montana’s state constitution, which says the state cannot set aside public money for “…any sectarian purpose or to aid any church, school, academy, seminary, college, university, or other literary or scientific institution, controlled in whole or in part by any church, sect, or denomination.”
Such a law is known as a “no-aid” provision.
Montana later decided to cut the program before eventually being sued on the basis of religious discrimination. One attorney argued that the only reason Montana shut down the program was because it included religious schools. That attorney also argued that the U.S. Constitution mandates equal protection under the law. In other words, Montana must apply the tax-credit program equally between private schools, both religious and nonreligious.
“Once you have these programs, you have to treat families going to religious schools equal to families going to nonreligious schools,” that attorney, Erica Smith, told NPR.
The case’s lead plaintiff—Kendra Espinoza— had also been vocal about her need for such a program.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Espinoza said not only did she have to pick up extra jobs but she also “pretty much sold everything in my house that wasn’t tied down” just to afford to send her two daughters to a religious private school. In addition to that, her two daughters took on jobs mowing lawns and cleaning offices to raise money.
Espinoza’s accounts are a far cry from the common stereotype that only rich people send their children to private schools, with Espinoza even directly saying that her family needs assistance to be able to afford private school.
“Baby” Blaine Amendments
While Montana didn’t introduce its tax-credit program until 2015, Espinoza’s case is also rooted in law that dates back to the 1800s.
In 1875, a politician by the name James G. Blaine introduced a similar “no-aid” amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That ended up failing, but different versions of it were adopted in most states, with Montana passing theirs in 1889.
Most historians have referred to the original proposed amendment as the “Blaine Amendment,” with the later ones being dubbed “baby” Blaine Amendments. Historians also agree that such amendments were only adopted in a bigoted retaliation to the mass immigration of Catholics into the U.S.
Thus, since the law was borne of bigotry against Catholics, Espinoza and her lawyers argued that it violates the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against religion.
On the other hand, the state of Montana disputed the discrimination claim, pointing out that its “no-aid” provision was revised and rewritten in 1972.
The state even had all but one of the surviving delegates at that 1972 convention submit a brief discussing how the revised Constitution was debated. According to NPR, one delegate even says that a number of the delegates were also ministers, with many of them speaking “very ardently in favor of public funds not going to religious education.”
That delegate, Mae Nan Ellingson, also argued that the state passed the “no-aid” provision to “protect religious liberty,” saying the state feared that if religious organizations were included, someone in the future might try to attach conditions to the aid.
The case eventually made its way to the Montana Supreme Court, where the Court ruled the state had not violated religious protections granted by the U.S. Constitution.
U.S. Supreme Court Takes Up the Case
That decision, however, was then appealed to the SCOTUS, which began hearing arguments Wednesday.
In its brief, Montana continued to defend its no-aid provision, saying, “The No-Aid Clause does not prohibit any religious practice. Nor does it authorize any discriminatory benefits program. It simply says that Montana will not financially aid religious schools.”
On Espinoza’s side, the Trump Administration and Education Secretary Betsy Devos have backed her. The move is not an unexpected one for Devos, who attended private school herself and later sent her kids to private schools. Devos is also a heavy advocate of “faith-based education.”
With this case now reaching SCOTUS, any decision could have far-reaching effects. Including Montana, 38 states have no-aid provisions.
If Montana wins, its tax-credit program would remain shut down. It would then continue to be able to keep public money away from religious schools, but religious schools would still be able to receive federal funds.
However, if the state loses, religious schools across the country—regardless of previous state law—might be able to access scholarship funds paid for by taxes.
Currently, the latter decision appears to be the more likely outcome. In recent years, the Court has become more conservative on church vs. state issues. In 2017, it decided that Missouri couldn’t ban a church school for applying for a state grant that fixes up playgrounds. Since then, the court has only grown more conservative, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining the bench.