A Mexican immigrant married to an American citizen has been denied re-entry to the United States because of his tattoos, his family says.
Ruben Zamora, 29, has been living in the United States since he was 8 years old. In July 2014, he went back to Mexico, expecting to return to his wife and children within weeks. This was not the case, however.
Zamora was denied re-entry to the country because officials at the U.S. Consulate said that he has gang tattoos and was part of a criminal enterprise.
“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,” Zamora’s wife, Vanessa Ruiz, told New York Daily News, sobbing.
“It’s really tough,” she continued. “He’s no gang member. He’s always been working.”
Ruiz, 31, met her husband in 2004. They married in 2009 and live in the Bronx with their children, 10-year-old Ryan Zamora and 3-year-old Aiden Zamora.
Zamora entered the United States illegally in 1994 and in 2014, began to pursue legal residency to be able to better provide for his children.
Zamora traveled back to Mexico to apply for an immigrant visa. After he received the visa, he would be able to re-enter the United States to gain permanent legal residency. At least, that’s what his lawyers thought would happen.
Instead, the father was told he would not be allowed back into the country because of his tattoos. He has been separated from his family for over a year.
Zamora’s lawyers said that the U.S. Consulate in Mexico told him that his tattoos led them to believe that he is a member of a “criminal organization” and that he would not be admitted back into the country.
The State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs would not comment on Zamora’s case, citing confidentiality requirements.
In an email sent to his lawyers, the State Department said that the consulate’s rejection of Zamora was valid.
“Reason to believe refers to more than mere suspicion; it is a probability, supported by the facts, that the alien is a member of an organized criminal entity,” the State Department wrote in the email.
Ruiz said that the tattoos were a mistake made in her husband’s youth, according to Raw Story. He got the tattoos when he was a teen living in Queens, New York. She said the symbols were not gang-related.
“He and his friends… thought the tattoo looked cool and they got it,” said Aubrey Carr of Legal Services NYC.
Carr said that the group of friends later got involved in gang activity after Zamora stopped hanging out with them.
“The fact is there’s no flexibility to actually look at his record and say, ‘Look, there’s been no arrests in the United States for him being in gangs,” Carr said. “There’s no flexibility in the law.”
Ruiz says that it has been hard emotionally for the family to not see Zamora, but it has also affected them financially.
“He was very responsible,” said Ruiz, who works part-time at a hospital’s call center. "He used to pay all the bills ... I [am] so frustrated because I had to pay all these bills. I was going to lose my apartment. I had to go to welfare to see if they could help in some way."
Legal Services NYC stepped in to help Ruiz when the family almost got thrown out onto the street.
According to Zamora’s lawyers, he dreads the thought of spending more time away from his family.
“He’s basically been sentenced to stay in Mexico for the rest of his life,” said Emily Puhl of Legal Services NYC.