Puerto Rico Just Made a Big Change to Its Driver's Licenses

The territory is adding 'USA' to make citizenship clear, curb discrimination against residents
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 14, 2023 6:00 AM CDT
Puerto Rico Just Made a Big Change to Its Driver's Licenses
A woman waves a Puerto Rican flag during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 2, 2021.   (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Puerto Rican driver's licenses are getting three new letters to help educate other Americans, who are overwhelming unaware of their citizenship. The New York Times reports that licenses will now have "USA" right up top, a move that aims to deter practices on the mainland that deny Puerto Rican residents rights when they flash their IDs. The issue drew attention earlier this year when a Hertz employee denied Puerto Rican resident Humberto Marchand his reserved car rental when he showed his driver's license, but not a passport. "I was shocked about how much lack of education, lack of knowledge was out there," Eileen Velez-Vega, Puerto Rico's secretary of transportation and public works, said.

NPR reports that the company issued an apology and said it would make employee training clearer. "We will strive to make sure that Mr. Marchand's experience is not repeated," CEO Stephen Scherr wrote. The Hertz employee isn't alone in their misunderstanding of Puerto Rican residency. The Times notes that almost half of Americans don't understand that the islanders of Puerto Rico, a US territory, are indeed US citizens. As a result, Puerto Ricans have a long history of discrimination, with a few recent high-profile cases, including a family that was denied entry on to a flight home from LA because their toddler didn't have a passport.

Marchand says the change is a "step in the right direction," but others are skeptical of how much it will help. Vanessa Diaz, a professor of Latino studies, said that Latino people "are constantly treated as foreigners, regardless of citizenship." Per the Times, some also see the driver's license move as pro-Puerto Rican statehood, an issue that divides people on the island. Puerto Rico's last plebiscite on whether it should become a state was in 2020, when 52% voted in favor. (Onondaga Nation is fighting to regain New York territory sold in 1788).

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