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Should non-citizens with gang tattoos be allowed entry into United States?

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POSTED July 12, 2012 12:51 a.m.

Do you believe the wearing of a gang tattoo is an indication one might be a gang member?

California law does. And it’s a position that’s been backed up by appeal courts that are considered the most liberal in the land.

The wearing of gang tattoos is one of nine criteria used in California to gain documented gang member status from law enforcement. Others include gang dress, association with known gang members, admission of being a gang member, displaying of symbols or hand signs, and frequenting known gang areas are among the other criteria.

Documentation requires any three of the nine criteria to be verified by law enforcement. Once documented, a person arrested gets automatic gang enhancements on sentences when they are convicted.

No one has challenged the system as not being 100 percent dead on.

So you’d expect immigration authorities - especially with an upswing in gang violence in this country from gangs based outside the United States - would look for gang tattoos on those people applying for green cards or legal residency status.

That is exactly what the federal government is doing.

In 2010, the last year statistics are available, the federal government denied access to this country to 82 people based on them having known gang tattoos on their body.

It seems like a reasonable policy unless, of course, you are a non-United States citizen trying to gain access to this country.

Civil rights attorneys naturally disagree with federal policy. They point to a specific case where an undocumented - read that illegal - immigrant in this country who has married an American citizen but haas been denied re-entry into the USA based on their sporting a known gang tattoo.

The critics say the federal policy encroaches on the rights of those denied entry. After, all, they argue people have the right to body art even if it is something that is verified as being associated with known gangs.

But here’s the rub. How does someone who is not a legal resident of this country enjoy full-blown rights of an American citizen?

The individual who was in this country illegally and married an American citizen had returned to Mexico in a bid to complete the process to gain permanent residency in the United States. His attorneys noted the police department in the Colorado community where he had been living had no evidence that he was a gang member.

The attorneys in the case of Hector Villalobos are arguing that denying him re-entry is violating his American spouse’s “fundamental right” to be with her husband.

Two can play at that game. Americans also have a fundamental right to have their communities free of gang violence.

There are a lot of things can clash with your fundamental right to be with your spouse - military service, incarceration, the other spouse’s desire not to be with you, and so forth. It isn’t an absolute right just like having your community free of gang violence isn’t an absolute right. The authorities just can’t simply throw anyone with a gang tattoo behind bars and lock them way for life.

And even though Villalobos may not be a gang member, he has no absolute right to access the full repertoire of citizenship rights and protection because he isn’t a citizen.

His status puts him in a twilight zone.

And quite frankly, if he entered this country legally in the first place, he wouldn’t find himself in the predicament he is in now.

Perhaps some type of accommodation could be made. Then again, the federal government has no absolute requirement to do such a thing. But they do have a duty to keep our borders secure and in turn strive to keep our communities safe.





This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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