The relationship between the federal government and the US territories restricts many essential freedoms and privileges for territory residents, such as voting rights and the equal distribution of economic aid. However, this dynamic also affects US citizens: as some government agencies and companies deny identification from the territories, many US citizens lose their fundamental identity as Americans.
In May, employees from rental vehicle company Hertz withheld a rental car from Puerto Rican Humberto Marchand. At New Orleans’ international airport, Marchand provided his driver’s license yet could not access his prepaid rental vehicle. The Hertz workers demanded he show his passport, regarding him as a foreigner despite his US citizenship. Later, a law enforcement officer arrived to escort Marchand out of the rental counter and threatened to call “border authorities.” After this shocking incident, Hertz released a statement apologizing for Marchand’s mistreatment and refunded his rental.
The company explained that it “accepts Puerto Rican driver’s licenses from our customers renting in the US without requiring a valid passport.” Under current US law, driver’s licenses and other federal identification—known as REAL ID—is a legitimate form of travel documentation for US citizens from the territories. However, American citizens need a passport to travel to Freely Associated States, which include the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau. Nevertheless, this event illustrates how companies can hinder the legal rights of territorial citizens by failing to enforce US legal codes.
In a separate incident, a cashier at Kroger denied Puerto Rican Ricardo Florit’s ID after he attempted to purchase groceries and alcohol in Georgia. When Florit presented his driver’s license, the cashier employee insisted that he provide a valid passport. Although Florit served in the military for 18 years, Kroger initially treated him as “less than any other US citizen” simply because his ID came from one of the territories. Thankfully, the store manager soon allowed Florit to buy the goods without a passport. Kroger apologized for the event. The apology detailed which identification Kroger accepts: “a valid US state-issued driver’s license, valid US state-issued identity card, valid US Passport, valid US Visa, valid identification documents from Puerto Rico and other US territories as well as an Admissions stamp with a foreign passport.” Despite Kroger’s correction, Florit’s mistreatment reinforces policies from the federal government that degrade territorial citizens as foreigners.
This neocolonialist relationship recently became clearer as Hawaiian officials clarified their ID travel policy for American Samoans. Although other US territories grant citizenship rights to residents, the federal government recognizes American Samoans as American nationals, not citizens. The territory is also the only one that controls its own immigration. As a result, US Customs and Border Patrol bars entry for travelers from Pago Pago who attempt to use REAL ID to enter Honolulu. Cementing the divide between US citizens and American Samoans, Hawaiian Airlines Local Manager Tuli Fruean established that “REAL IDs are not acceptable as travel documents as of now.” As nationals, American Samoans are only allowed to enter the US with a valid passport, a certificate of identity, a US birth certificate, or an active duty military ID.
The complex status of territorial IDs limits travel restricts legal rights, and alienates US citizens as if they were non-American foreigners. As mainland organizations delegitimize these IDs, residents from the territories may lose trust in the public and private institutions that continually fail to represent or include them. Ultimately, recent denials of territorial IDs reflect the impacts of US colonialism.