New Roadblock for Immigrants: Tattoos

US scans them for possible gang affiliations

By Liam Carnahan,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 11, 2012 4:06 PM CDT

(Newser) – Immigrants applying for a green card might want to think before they ink. In recent years, US immigration officials have been scrutinizing the tattoos of foreigners seeking documentation in what some say is a misguided effort to prevent organized crime in Latin America from crossing the border, reports the Wall Street Journal. A section of immigration law linked to national security allows for the denial of applications on the grounds of potential criminal affiliation, even if the person in question has no criminal background.

But an expert witness on gangs argues that tats once associated with crime, such as a pair of theatrical masks, have become popular among law-abiding citizens as well. Tattoos seem to have been ensnaring more immigrants in recent years; in 2006, only two visa applications were denied based on suspected links to a criminal group. In 2010, that number jumped to 82. Applications that aren't denied outright are sometimes delayed for months, leaving immigrants stranded in their home country, away from their families, until a final decision is made.

Baldemar Rivera, former leader of the Raza Unida prison gang, displays his gang tattoo in Cuero, Texas, in this file photo.   (AP Photo/Christopher Sherman)
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