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Terecita Ascension walked into a south Minneapolis Cub Foods location Thursday evening for her appointment to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Instead of coming out of the store relieved, however, she came out in tears. An attendant at the pharmacy refused to give her a shot, Ascension said, because Ascension couldn’t provide a U.S. government-issued ID. The clerk also allegedly asked Ascension for her immigration status.
Ascension, who is undocumented and lives in the Minneapolis area, first provided the clerk with her Consular Identification Card, a photo ID that the Mexican government issues to citizens living outside of Mexico.
“The lady said, ‘No, I’m sorry, you need to have a U.S. ID or a state ID,” Ascension told Sahan Journal. Ascension did not get the name of the employee who turned her away.
The pharmacy attendant also allegedly asked Ascension for her immigration status. Ascension said she evaded this question, and instead offered to provide her passport, which the clerk told her would not work because it was issued from the Mexican government—not the U.S.
Ascension, 47, had just learned she was eligible because she works in the cafeteria at Prairie Seeds Academy, a public charter school in Brooklyn Park. Because she’s a school worker, Ascension falls into one of the priority groups currently eligible for the vaccine.
Originally from Puebla, Mexico, Ascension has lived in Minnesota for 18 years. She and her husband work in food service and have four children—two adults and two of younger age.Both she and her husband suffered economically over the past year because of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
After the clerk turned her away for the shot, Ascension said she stood in front of the employee for a moment hoping she would change her mind. Ascension started to think maybe undocumented immigrants like herself couldn’t get vaccinated.
“I guess I’ll wait my turn until the end, when undocumented Latinos can be vaccinated,” she recalled thinking. “It was so embarrassing and so hard.”
Minnesota Department of Health says vaccines should be available to all
The alleged incident occurred at the 4601 Snelling Avenue Cub Foods location in the Minnehaha/Hiawatha neighborhood. When reached on the phone, a staffer at the pharmacy declined to comment and referred a Sahan Journal reporter to Cub Foods’ corporate headquarters. Multiple voicemails left Friday afternoon at the grocery chain’s headquarters went unreturned before press time.
Asking a vaccine recipient for a U.S. identification ignores guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the agency’s website. Pharmacies are supposed to rely on the word of the person getting vaccinated, who can “self-attest” that they are eligible to receive a shot. Vaccine eligibility is not conditional on immigration status, according to state guidelines.
“No one will be turned away for lack of specific identification documents,” the CDC website reads, listing a driver’s license as an example.
Asking for specific types of IDs also breaks state guidelines, said Erin McHenry, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Health.
“We want providers to be prioritizing people who are currently eligible, but they are not restricted to only vaccinating Minnesota residents,” McHenry said. “When you get your COVID-19 vaccine, you will be asked to share your full name, date of birth, address, phone number, and gender. This is so the vaccination can be recorded. But you will never be asked about your immigration status when getting the COVID-19 vaccine.”
McHenry added that anyone who experiences or witnesses discrimination while trying to get vaccinated should report the incident to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, either online or by phone at (833) 454-0148.
Latinos in Minneota are getting infected with COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates and being vaccinated against the virus at disproportionately low rates. Latinos account for 9 percent of all of the state’s positive COVID-19 cases, but just 5 percent of the total state population. Just 1.6 percent of the Minneosota’s vaccinated population are Latino.
Other Latinos in Minnesota describe similar ID barriers
Rodolfo Gutierrez, executive director of St. Paul-based Hispanic Advocacy and Community Empowerment Through Research (HACER), said that he’s heard stories similar to Ascension’s from undocumented Latinos since vaccines became available to people 65 and older.
His office has received around 20 phone calls from people around the state who ran into similar problems.
“Unfortunately, it is happening,” Gutierrez said. “There might be several others who are not calling us.”
While the state and federal government offer guidelines not to do this, some stores are imposing their own ID requirements anyway, Gutierrez said. When HACER gets calls from people who’ve been turned away from vaccine sites over their IDs, Gutierrez said they try to guide them to locations where they know they aren’t imposing strict ID requirements.
Gutierrez said pharmacies and health providers shouldn’t be discriminating against people who want to get the vaccine. He emphasized that the pandemic will only end with all people getting access to vaccination.
“We need to inform not only those in need of the vaccine, but also those offering vaccines that they need to be open to everybody,” Gutierrez said.
A post on Twitter leads to a call from Cub Foods
After Ascension was turned away Thursday night, Miranda Posthumus, a family friend who is active on social media, shared Ascension’s story on Twitter.
By Friday afternoon, the same Cub Foods pharmacy called Ascension and asked if she wanted to come in and get her vaccine. This time, she arrived with a friend, Erika Posthumus (who is Miranda’s sister).
“They didn’t say anything about why they called her or what happened,” Erika said.
A pharmacy clerk once again asked Ascension for her ID. Erika protested, saying they didn’t need her ID. Ascension next filled out her form attesting that she was eligible. She got her vaccine.
Now, Ascension and Erika are in the process of helping Ascension’s husband find a vaccine. They don’t plan on registering him at Cub Foods.