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Tattoos May Derail Immigration Applications Because of Gang Fears

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 29:  Tattoos are seen on the head of a twenty-year old "Street Villains" gang member who was arrested by Los Angeles Police Department officers from the 77th Street division on April 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The 77th Street division patrol the same neighborhood that truck driver Reginald Denny was nearly beaten to death by a group of black assailants at the intersection of Florence and Normandie Avenues. It’s been 20 years since the verdict was handed down in the Rodney King case that sparked infamous Los Angeles riots.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 29: Tattoos are seen on the head of a twenty-year old "Street Villains" gang member who was arrested by Los Angeles Police Department officers from the 77th Street division on April 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The 77th Street division patrol the same neighborhood that truck driver Reginald Denny was nearly beaten to death by a group of black assailants at the intersection of Florence and Normandie Avenues. It’s been 20 years since the verdict was handed down in the Rodney King case that sparked infamous Los Angeles riots. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)  (2012 Getty Images)

Some tattoos can derail a green card application.

Dozens of Latin Americans without criminal convictions have been denied green cards or permanent residency since 2006 based partly on the assumption that some tattoos reveal affiliation with criminal gangs, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

Héctor Villalobos, a Mexican immigrant interviewed by the Journal, says he got a string of tattoos because he likes the way they look, but denies having affiliation with any gangs. When Villalobos traveled to Mexico for an interview with American consular officials as part of his permanent residency application, U.S. officials denied his reentry because of the tattoos, according to the Journal.

A number of tattoos have become associated with Latin American gangs, including one depicting two masks side-by-side, with one laughing and one crying. Villalobos has that tattoo on his back.

“Because I like art, they try to put a mask of a bad person on me,” Villalobos told the Journal.  

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Many tattoos associated with criminal organizations aren’t exclusively used by gang members, and lawyers for immigrants whose applications for green cards and permanent residency have been denied say U.S. immigration officials are rejecting people based on the assumption of guilt without evidence of gang affiliation.

The State Department says it does not reject applications based solely on an applicant’s tattoos, according to the Journal.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal.