Tattoo Removal as a Resettlement Service to Reduce Incarceration Among Mexican Migrants


In Mexico, tattooed migrants face discrimination and are at high-risk of incarceration, thus, we assessed whether receiving laser tattoo removal affected the likelihood of incarceration. In 2015–2016, 89 adults ages ≥ 18 years with visible tattoos were recruited at a free-clinic to receive laser tattoo removal or assigned to the wait-list; all completed baseline and 6-month questionnaires. Overall, 97.8% of participants ever migrated to the USA. In multivariate analyses restricted to migrants (n = 87), those receiving laser tattoo removal [Adjusted Odds Ratio (AOR) 0.27, 95% CI 0.07–0.89] and possessing a Mexican Voting card (AOR 0.14; 95% CI 0.03–0.58) were significantly less likely than wait-list participants to be incarcerated at 6-months. Previously incarcerated participants were significantly more likely to be incarcerated at follow-up. Tattoo removal may reduce incarceration among Mexican migrants. Future studies can assess other health and social benefits of tattoo removal for migrants/deportees returning to Mexico.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Drazewski P. Tattoo stigma and job discrimination. 2013; Theses and Dissertations. p. 148

  2. 2.

    Hawkes D, Senn C, Thorn C. Factors that influence attitudes toward women with tattoos. Sex Roles. 2004;50(9/10):593–604.

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Madera J, Hebl M. Discrimination against facially stigmatized applicants in interviews: an eye-tracking and face-to-face investigation. J Appl Psychol. 2012;97(2):317–30.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Swami V, Furnham A. Unattractive, promiscuous and heavy drinkers: Perceptions of women with tattoos. Body Image. 2007;4(4):343–52.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Komar D, Lathrop S. Tattoo types and frequencies in New Mexican white hispanics and white non-hispanics: autopsy data from homicidal and accidental deaths, 2002–2005. Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 2008;29(4):285–9.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Mc Mahon J, Pouget E, Tortu S. Individual and couple-level risk factors for hepatitis C infection among heterosexual drug users: a multilevel dyadic analysis. J Infectous Dis. 2007;195(11):1572–81.

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Yen C, Hsiao R, Yen J, Yeh Y, Wang P, Lin H, KJo C. Tattooing among high school students in southern Taiwan: the prevalence, correlates and associations with risk-taking behaviors and depression. Kaohsiung J Med Sci. 2012;28(7):383–9.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Van Dooren K, Claudio F, Kinner S, Williams M. Beyond reintegration: a framework for understanding ex-prisoner health. Int J Prison Health. 2011;7(4):26–36.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Campbell H. Narco-propaganda in the Mexican “drug war”. Lat Am Perspect. 2014;41(2):60–77.

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Kun J, Montezemolo F. Tijuana dreaming: life and art at the global border. Durham: Duke University Press; 2014.

    Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Pinedo M, Burgos J, Ojeda AV, FitzGerald D, Ojeda VD. The role of visual markers in police victimization among structurally vulnerable persons in Tijuana, Mexico. Int J Drug Policy. 2015;26(5):501–8.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Bazan L, Harris L, Lorentzen L. Migrant gangs, religion and tattoo removal. Peace Rev. 2002;14(4):379–83.

    Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Herrera E, Jones G, de Benitez ST. Bodies on the line: identity markers among Mexican street youth. Child Geogr. 2009;7(1):37–41.

    Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Scambler G. Re-framing stigma: felt and enacted stigma and challenges to the sociology of chronic and disabling conditions. Soc Theory Health. 2004;2(1968):29–46.

    Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Volkmann T, Lozada R, Anderson CM, Patterson T, Vera A, Strathdee S. Factors associated with drug-related harms related to policing in Tijuana, Mexico. Harm Reduct J. 2011;8(1):7.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Davidson P, Lozada R, Rosen P, Macias A, Gallardo M, Pollini R. Negotiating access: social barriers to purchasing syringes at pharmacies in Tijuana, Mexico. Int J Drug Policy. 2012;23(4):286–94.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Beletsky L, Grau LE, White E, Bowman S, Heimer R. The roles of law, client race and program visibility in shaping police interference with the operation of US syringe exchange programs. Addiction. 2011;106(2):357–65.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Horyniak D, Pinedo M, Burgos J, Ojeda V. Relationships between integration and drug use among deported migrants in Tijuana, Mexico. J Immigr Minor Health. 2017;19:1196–206.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Pinedo M, Burgos J, Zuniga M, Perez R, Macera C, Ojeda VD. Police victimization among persons who inject drugs along the U.S.-Mexico border. J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2015;76(5):758–63.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Pollini R, Alvelais J, Gallardo M, Vera A, Lozada R, Magis-Rodriguez C, Strathdee S. The harm inside: injection during incarceration among male injection drug users in Tijuana, Mexico. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2009;103(1–2):52–8.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    National Migration Institute of Mexico. Guía de Procedimiento de Repatriación Al Interior de México. 2018 Accessed 1 July 2018.

  22. 22.

    París Pombo MD. Procesos de repatriación. Experiencias de las personas devueltas a México por las autoridades estadounidenses. Tijuana. México: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars-El Colegio de la Frontera Norte; 2010.

    Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Goffman E. Stigma; notes on the management of spoiled identity. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall; 1963.

    Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Jacoby A. Felt versus enacted stigma: a concept revisited. Evidence from a study of people with epilepsy in remission. Soc Sci Med. 1994;38(2):269–74.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Link B, Phelan J. Conceptualizing stigma. Annu Rev Sociol. 2001;27:363–85.

    Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Brotherton B, Barrios L. Displacement and stigma: the social-psychological crisis of the deportee. Crime Media Cult. 2009;5(1):29–55.

    Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Hagan J, Eschbach K, Rodriguez N. US deportation policy, family separation, and circular migration. Int Migrat Rev. 2008;42(1):64–88.

    Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Schuster L, Nassim M. Deportation Stigma and Re-migration. J Ethn Migr Stud. 2015;41(4):635–52.

    Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Albicker S, Velasco L. Deportación y estigma en la frontera México-Estados Unidos: atrapados en Tijuana. Norteamerica. 2016;11(1):99–129.

    Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Roman J, Arroyo L, Cotto Gomez Z. Rasgando la Piel: Tatuajes, Cuerpos y Significados. Qual Rep. 2009;14(2):374–88.

    Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Kroenke K, Spitzer R, Williams J. The patient health questionnaire-2: validity of a two-item depression screener. Med Care. 41(11):1284–1292.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Cella D, Yount S, Rothrock N, Gershon R, Cook K, Reeve B, Ader D, Fries J, Bruce B, Rose M, PROMIS Cooperative Group. The patient-reported outcomes measurement information system (PROMIS): progress of an NIH roadmap cooperative group during its first two years. Med Care. 2007;45(5 Suppl 1):3–11.

    Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    FDA. 510(k) summary QYAG laser handpiece.

  34. 34.

    Martinez N. Reintegrating into society: challenges and successes encountered by ex-offenders; 2009. pp. 1–69.

  35. 35.

    Beers K, Collins C, Sanchez-garcia M. Expanding opportunities and erasing barriers: tattoo removal as gang transition strategy. Walla Walla: Withman College; 2014.

    Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Armstrong ML, Stuppy DJ, Gabriel D. Motivation for tattoo removal. Arch Dermatol. 1996;132(7):412–6.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Durose M, Cooper A, Snyder H. Recidivism of prisoners released in 30 states in 2005: patterns from 2005 to 2010. Washington, DC: Statistics US Department of Justice; 2014.

    Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Håkansson A, Berglund M. Risk factors for criminal recidivism: a prospective follow-up study in prisoners with substance abuse. BMC Psychiatry. 2012;12:111.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Robertson A, Lozada R, Pollini RA, Rangei G, Ojeda V. Correlates and contexts of US injection drug initiation among undocumented Mexican migrant men who were deported from the United States. AIDS Behav. 2012;16(6):1670–80.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Robertson A, Lozada R, Vera A, Palinkas L, Burgos J, Magis-Rodriguez C, Rangei G, Ojeda V. Deportation experiences of women who inject drugs in Tijuana, Mexico. Qual Health Res. 2012;22(4):499–510.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Shader M. Risk factors for delinquency: an overview. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; 2004. pp. 1–11.

    Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Ho S, Goh C: Laser tattoo removal: a clinical update. (JCAS Symposium) (Report). J Cutan Aesthet Surg. 2015;8(1):9.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Shah SD, Aurangabadkar SJ. Newer trends in laser tattoo removal. J Cutan Aesthet Surg. 2015;8(1):25–9.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Choudhary S, Elsaie ML, Leiva A, Nouri K. Lasers for tattoo removal: a review. Lasers Med Sci. 2010;25(5):619–27.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Gorsic M, Bacak I, Ahcan U, Topcic V. Evaluation of the efficacy of tattoo-removal treatments with Q-Switch laser. J Laser Health Acad. 2013;2013(2):21–6.

    Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Koikkalainen S, Kyle D. Imagining mobility: the prospective cognition question in migration research. J Ethn Migr Stud. 2015;42(5):759–76.

    Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Decker S, Pyrooz D, Moule R. Disengagement from gangs as role transitions. J Res Adolesc. 2014;24(2):268–83.

    Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Pyrooz D, Decker S, Webb V. The ties that bind: desistance from gangs. Crime Delinq. 2010;60:419–516.

    Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Choi DY, Kiesner F. Homeboy industries: an incubator of hope and businesses: a note to instructors. Entrep Theory Pract. 2007;31(5):787–90.

    Google Scholar 

Download references


We acknowledge funding from the following sources: the UC GloCal Fellowship and the AIDS International Training Research Program funded by the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health under Award Numbers R25TW009343 and D43TW008633 (Ojeda, Pinedo, Ferraiolo), and the National Institute on Mental Health Grant #K01MH095680 (Burgos). Kremer was supported by a Research Fellowship from the UCSD Office of Graduate Studies and Ojeda was supported by a Faculty Fellowship by the UCSD Center for US-Mexican Studies.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Victoria D. Ojeda.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Kremer, P., Pinedo, M., Ferraiolo, N. et al. Tattoo Removal as a Resettlement Service to Reduce Incarceration Among Mexican Migrants. J Immigrant Minority Health 22, 110–119 (2020).

Download citation


  • Tattoo removal
  • Incarceration
  • Deported migrants
  • Mexico
  • Gang tattoos