When José Guzmán Payano headed to the CVS near his dorm at Purdue University to buy Mucinex, he never anticipated his immigration status would be questioned — despite being from Puerto Rico, a United States territory.
In a Facebook post, his mother Arlene Payano Burgos shared the details of what happened. According to the social media post, which has been shared more than 10,000 times since it was posted — while Guzmán Payano was completing his transaction at self-checkout in a CVS, the computer prompted him to wait for an employee to show ID in order to be able to complete the purchase. When the college student showed her his driver’s license from Puerto Rico, the employee told him it wasn’t an acceptable form of identification.
“And then when she asked me for a visa, I was in shock at that time. And we went back and forth, and I said this is a U.S. issued license,” the junior engineering student told WTHR.
However, it’s not the first time something of this nature has happened to him. As a result, he also carries around his U.S. passport with him to avoid any further issues. Still, the employee refused to accept that as a form of ID because it showed he was born in Puerto Rico.
Guzmán Payano asked for their names to file a complaint but they refused so he left without the medication and then called his mother to tell her what had happened. “I was a little nervous. I was shook by what had happened,” Guzmán Payano told WTHR.
The incident took place at a CVS in West Lafayette, Indiana where 69.2 percent of the population is white and 4.2 are Latinx, according to the July 2018 census.
He then returned a few minutes to see whether a shift supervisor or a manager could help him but was given the same answer once again. So then he called CVS to file a complaint. “[The employee] proceeded to explain that she was just following CVS policy and that CVS only accepts identification from the United States, Canada or Mexico. I then explained that Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, and she then clarified that the policy specifically requires that employees do not accept driver’s licenses from Puerto Rico,” Guzmán Payano continued.
Guzmán Payano’s mom also called the store and was given the same explanation. His mother was also informed that a manager wouldn’t be available to speak with them until days later.
“Needless to say my son, or any other consumer, is not obligated to disclose his immigration status to any CVS employee! What caused this employee to ask him for his visa? Was it his accent? Was it his skin color? Was it the Puerto Rican flag on the license? Whatever triggered her to discriminate against my son embodies exactly what is wrong in the United States of America today,” his mom wrote in the Facebook post. “I guess I should be thankful that he wasn’t thrown in the back of an ICE van and interrogated, or worse. I can’t help to be ANGRY, OUTRAGED, and DISGUSTED. The current issues we are experiencing in the United States related to immigration, ICE raids, and rampant racism are directly fueled disgracefully by President Trump.”
It took nine days for CVS to contact him about his complaint. But since the story gained media attention they’ve apologized and clarified that the store does accept Puerto Rican IDs, NBC News reports.
Guzmán Payano told WTHR that there’s a lack of education surrounding how Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory as well as its proximity to the U.S. A 2017 poll found that only 37 percent of people between 18 to 29 know Puerto Ricans are citizens compared to 64 percent of those 65 or older, the New York Times reports. Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory after the Spanish-American War of 1898 and in 1917, Puerto Ricans were given U.S. citizenship through the Jones-Shafroth Act. Yet incidents like this aren’t isolated and racist interactions continue to occur throughout the U.S., and Puerto Ricans in particular, continue to have to defend their status as U.S. citizens.
“What happened to my son today is not unlike what many other families have had to face since Trump was sworn into office and it’s completely unacceptable. Enough is enough. The men that signed the Declaration of Independence stated that all men are created equal. Our founding fathers must be rolling over in their graves,” his mother wrote in her Facebook post.