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By David Sperling

I personally never liked tattoos. But when you are young and immature, as we all were, you might considering getting one to prove your love to your mother or girlfriend, because it looks cool, or to show allegiance to your particular tribe.

You might have a different idea a few years in the future when you are looking for a job or trying to make a good impression in different circles.

But if you are not a U.S. Citizen, there’s an even more important and immediate reason not to get a tattoo:  It could lead to your deportation.

Immigration activists were shaken earlier this month when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested and detained Daniel Ramirez, a 23-year-old Mexican “Dreamer” during a Seattle-area raid.  ICE agents had targeted Ramirez’ father, who they said was a felon with a prior deportation order.

Ramirez was one of 750,000 young immigrants who were beneficiaries of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA), and the first to be taken into  ICE custody under the Trump administration.

ICE officials said Ramirez had a “gang tattoo” on his forearm, and said he had “confessed” to affiliation with known gangs on the West Coast.

I have no idea whether Ramirez  was in fact a gang member or whether the confession had been coerced, as his lawyers maintained.

But it doesn’t matter. When immigration authorities comes into contact with a non-Citizen, tattoos are a red flag. ICE has always had the authority to detain and prioritize the deportation of anyone that poses a risk to public safety, and especially targets gang members and associates.  They can act purely on suspicion, without requiring a criminal conviction. In fact, Ramirez did not have a previous criminal record.

Tattoos have always had a certain stigma, deservedly or not. While the tattoo itself may be completely harmless — and in most cases they are — an immigration officer might well draw a negative inference in evaluating applicants for legal status.

There are many young people who have joined gangs and gotten identifying  tattoos — under pressure or voluntarily —  but now are on the straight and narrow.  While there are techniques to remove tattoos, they are costly and painful and often leave a tell-tale blotch.

There is probably nothing wrong with discrete artistic tattoos. But for anyone who is not a U.S. Citizen, getting a conspicuous tattoo at this time could be a very bad idea.


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