Tattoos May Derail Immigration Applications Because of Gang Fears

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.