IMMIGRATION

Immigrants hurry to remove all tattoos fearing ICE may tie them to gangs

File picture of a former gang member undergoing a process for tattoo removal in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

File picture of a former gang member undergoing a process for tattoo removal in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.  (Reuters)

The fear of being deported is spreading to tattoo parlors, which have seen a spike in removal requests since more strict immigration measures have been put in place by the Trump administration.

In San Francisco, a tattoo removal clinic has doubled the number of clients since the election.

“A lot of people don’t want to be a moving target or even seen as a target,” said Nora Ruiz of the San Pablo Economic Development Corporation to KPIX 5. “And for fear that they might be seen as a certain type of person or judged in anyway, people want to get their tattoos removed.”

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Tattoos are widely used among gang members from Central America. MS 13, also sometimes just MS or 13, is a symbol of the Mara Salvatrucha gang from El Salvador. Typically these tattoos can be found anywhere on the body, but are most often found in highly visible places like the face, hands or neck.

“La Eme,” or The M, is the symbol of the Mexican Mafia, considered one of the most ruthless prison gangs in the U.S.

Tattoo-related fears were stoked after last month a Mexican immigrant who was protected by President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was arrested outside his home in Seattle for his alleged gang ties — Daniel Ramirez, who remains in custody, had a tattoo on his forearm.

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However, Ramirez's attorneys say the supposed gang tattoo pays homage to the city of La Paz in Mexico's Baja California Sur state where he was born.

In an Op-Ed he wrote for the Washington Post, Ramirez said Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) knows he is not a gang member because he gave all of his personal information and fingerprints to the government to qualify for DACA. 

"Agents said that I was a gang member and that a tattoo on my arm means I'm in a gang,” he wrote. “Agents interrogated me for hours and insisted I was a gang member because I'm from the Central Valley. They are all gang members there, they told me. It didn't seem to matter how many times I told them that I wasn't."