CVS Worker Asks Puerto Rican Man For Immigration Papers To Buy Cold Meds

According to a 2017 poll by Morning Consult, almost half of Americans don't realize that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.

A Puerto Rican college student's experience trying to buy over-the-counter cold medication is underscoring just how greatly that lack of knowledge can affect a person.

Purdue junior Jose Guzman Payano went to bed one night feeling a cold coming on, and the next morning, he knew he needed some help.

So, with his throat sore and his chest congested, he did what many of us would do: he went to his local CVS to get some cold medication, and maybe grab a few other things while he was there. Things did not go smoothly at CVS, however. Using the self-checkout, the machine informed him he'd need to show ID to purchase the over-the-counter medication.

When a clerk came over to check his ID, he presented his Puerto Rico ID, and was told it wasn't good enough.

"She said she needed a U.S.-issued ID, Canada or Mexico license," he told WTHR. "That's when I tell her that was a U.S. issued license, and I didn't need anything else but that license."

He tried to explain that, as a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico licenses were valid, but to no avail.

The clerk insisted that a Puerto Rico ID alone didn't qualify and he'd have to show his immigration status.


"And then when she asked me for a visa, I was in shock at that time," Jose said. "And we went back and forth, and I said this is a U.S.-issued license."

He even tried presenting his passport, which he carries around with him for just such an occasion, and was still denied. He ended up leaving without the cold medication, and with the intent of filing a complaint.

Jose's mother then picked up the torch and ran with it.

Facebook | Arlene Payano Burgos

In a scathing, impassioned Facebook post, Arlene Payano Burgos wrote, "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."

Her post went viral, being shared more than 12,000 times.

A spokesperson for CVS issued an apology, stressing that Jose's experience was an isolated incident and that it was indeed the company's policy to accept a Puerto Rico ID.

Facebook | CVS Pharmacy

"CVS Pharmacy is committed to ensuring that every customer receives courteous, outstanding service in our stores and we have apologized to our customer in West Lafayette and his mother following his recent experience in one of our stores," Amy Thibault, CVS's senior manager of corporate communications, wrote in an email to NBC News.

"While we are confident that this was an isolated incident, we will be reiterating to all of our stores the correct procedures to follow when requesting identification that is required by law for certain transactions, as well as the forms of identification we accept, including IDs issued by U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico."

And it seems that CVS's apology went a long way for Jose's mother.

"My family and I are so grateful for the outpouring of support and love we have received following my post regarding the incident that happened with my son at CVS. I can’t thank everyone enough for that but we would like to ask that we all remember to treat each other with respect," she wrote in an update. "Furthermore I ask that no one harass or threaten any CVS staff in relation to this incident. Let’s all be the better person in this situation. Thank you all again for the support and love for my family."

h/t: WTHR, USA Today, NBC News