Mexican Immigrant Denied Re-Entry Into U.S. Over Tattoos

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An undocumented immigrant has been denied a visa into the United States to reunite with his U.S.-citizen wife and children based on tattoos that U.S. consulate officials in Mexico say are gang-related, according to the NY Daily News.

Ruben Zamora crossed the southern United States border from Mexico at the age of 8 and illegally lived in the country until he was 29. He married U.S.-citizen Vanessa Ruiz in 2009 and the pair have two U.S.-born children under the age of ten. In 2014, attorneys told Zamora to return to Mexico so that he could begin his immigrant visa process to become a legal permanent resident in the United States after marrying his U.S.-citizen wife. But the U.S. consulate in Mexico has since barred his re-entry because they claim that he has gang tattoos.

“My kids, like every day they ask me for their dad… When is he coming back and I don’t have an answer for them,” Vanessa Ruiz told the NY Daily News. She added, “He’s no gang member. He’s always been working.”

In an email sent to his lawyers last week, the U.S. State Department said that the consulate’s decision was based on “more than mere suspicion, noting that “it is a probability, supported by the facts, that the alien is a member of an organized criminal entity.” The email added that new evidence proving Zamora’s innocence would help change the consulate’s ruling.

Ruiz said that her husband got his tattoos when he was a teenager and that the symbols weren’t gang-related at the time. She also stated that her husband left his group after they became involved in gang activity.

U.S. State Department officials say that they don’t deny visas based on tattoos. But consular officers sometimes do consider certain tattoos as “a display of symbols of the organization or maybe as a form of acknowledgment by the individual of his membership in the organized crime group,” Asian Journal reported.

Stringent federal immigration laws aimed at protecting public safety have ensnared tattooed immigrants — who otherwise don’t have criminal records — in immigration limbo.

In a case similar to Zamora’s, a man named Hector Villalobos left Colorado for Mexico for an interview as part of his application for U.S. permanent residency. He got stuck in Mexico because his tattoos have gang origins — although lawyers and criminologists explained that at least two of his tattoos, a pair of theatrical masks known as “Smile Now, Cry Later” and another one that includes three-dot triangles to refer to “my crazy life,” have been adopted by the wider public. Another Mexican national married to a U.S. citizen was denied a visa because of his “smiling-face-frowning-face” tattoo that he got before he entered the United States at the age of 14.