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‘Wall of shame’ faces mounting protests

Guam's attorney general criticized over billboard with mugshots of convicted aliens



 By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

 

Guam’s attorney general is facing a wave of backlash over his billboard campaign to deport convicted aliens, which critics described as “dehumanizing.”


Douglas Moylan, however, defended his “Deport Air Project,” saying the initiative “builds upon a nationwide effort by communities to reduce injuries to crime victims.”


The AG’s billboard, conspicuously installed along Guam's busy thoroughfares, bears the mugshots of 40 convicted aliens, most of whom are Micronesian citizens, who are being processed for deportation. The structure is accentuated with a picture of an airplane, highlighting the Office of the Attorney General’s "Pack your Bags" campaign.


“While the OAG claims the intent of the billboards is to ‘deter crime,’ in reality, the messages have further fueled animosity, encouraged defeatism  and

capitalized on shame and humiliation by inflicting a type of negativity and pain in our community,” the Guam chapter of the National Association of Social Workers said in a statement.

 

“The billboards negatively impact the rehabilitation process of the individuals

 highlighted and this further influences the recovery process for spouses, children, relatives, friends and community,” the NASW added.


Douglas Moylan

In response, Moylan suggested that the NASW divert its focus toward encouraging higher education and creating jobs to pull the “less fortunate” U.S. citizens out of poverty and its cycle instead of coddling social welfare.

 

“The social welfare system and especially taxpayer-paid or funded social workers have a moral obligation to focus upon protecting our people, not non-U.S. citizens,” he added. “The social welfare state must end in Guam.” 

 

The Deport Air Program seeks to curb Guam's "catch, release and re-offend" cycle by sending recidivist aliens back home, Moylan said.

 

In a July 9 letter to Moylan, Sarah A. Taitano, a social worker, rebuked the attorney general's public messaging approach, saying it perpetuates “the long history of racial and classist profiling in our criminal justice systems."

 

Taitano said Moylan’s policy communication strategy resulted in “a misrepresentation of the ethnical make-up of our population engaged in criminal activity” and “further development of racist perspectives within different ethnic groups.”


She urged the attorney general to switch to “newer and effective approaches to working with our community about these issues, as opposed to creating dead-end divisions that prolong our collective address to resolve.”

 

Andrea Santos, an adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Guam, questioned the OAG’s justification for spending tens of thousands of dollars on the controversial billboards.

 

“We must acknowledge that there are so many in our community who are hurt by the OAG billboards. The children of our island who have loved ones suffering from substance use disorders are further harmed by the OAG billboards.,” Santos said in a separate public statement.

 

“Our ability to have generative and restorative relationships with each other

is harmed by these billboards. Our ability to work together to forge a better future for our island is harmed by these billboards,” she added.


Echoing the sentiment, Sen. Thomas Fisher said the billboards “dehumanize and stigmatize individuals within our island community, whom we are committed to serving.”


“The impact of these billboards extends beyond mere messaging; they significantly hinder the rehabilitation and recovery processes of the individuals highlighted, affecting not only them but also their families, children, relatives, and the broader community,” Fisher said.


In an interview with the Pacific Island Times last month, Lt. Gov. Joshua Tenorio said public safety requires a balance between “a heavy hand of the law” and “consistency in accountability for criminal acts.”


“But there also has to be a large-scale focus on rehabilitation programs because the cost of incarcerating people is very high,” Tenorio said. The public wants to have a very safe place and just have to make sure we do it the right way.”


“So I always feel that we have to incarcerate those who are dangerous and going to repeat the crimes, but have a pathway to upskill or provide effective rehabilitation programs for the rest of that population that can recover their lives get back to work," he added.


Moylan earlier said those facing deportation were convicted of manslaughter, home invasion and sexual assault.


Deporting convicted aliens, he added, was intended to free up cells at the Department of Correction “to make room for more criminals in order to protect our people.”




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