Immigration Reform

Mexican Government Warns of New Deportation Rules in the US

By Peek & Toland on May 17, 2017

Mexicans living in the United States have been urged to “take precautions” by the Mexican government after a controversial and high profile deportation in Arizona.

The Mexican government issued a warning after the deportation in February of Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos.

The 36-year-old was deported after she reported to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Phoenix. Her attorney said she showed up for a routine “check in” regarding an ongoing deportation case, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The detention and deportation of Garcia de Rayos sparked protests and made headlines in the United States and Mexico.

Mexico warns of new deportation rules

Mexican government warns of new deportation rules

Mexico said the deportation reflected the “new reality” for the immigrant community under the Trump administration. On Feb. 13, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement conducted a sweep in Austin that resulted in the arrests of 51 immigrants, 23 of them with criminal records, reported the Statesman.

The Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Mexican community in the United States faces a more severe application of migration controls.

A previous identity theft conviction led to the deportation of Garcia de Rayos.

The Los Angeles Times reported she grew in a small Mexican town 20 hours from the U.S. border. Her children are both U.S. citizens. They joined their father, who remains in Phoenix.

Garcia de Rayos lived in the United States since she was 14. Immigration agents arrested her during a workplace enforcement immigration raid nine years ago and convicted her of felony identity theft for having false papers that she used to secure work.

The felony conviction resulted in her deportation. The Trump administration said it is targeting so-called “criminal aliens” as it changes the deportation rules. The Mexican mother’s case underwent reviews at multiple levels, immigration officials stated.

Deportation Rules Change Leads to Advice in Austin

The Los Angeles Times article pointed out the Arizona deportation has sewed seeds of anxiety in the immigrant community.

In Austin, the teachers’ union Education Austin sent its union members a flier with advice entitled “What to do if ICE comes to your door.”

The flier recommends immigrants against speaking with ICE agents or even permitting them entry. It urged them to remain silent.

The deportation of Garcia de Rayos alarmed immigrants because she was complying with the rules and her felony conviction was almost a decade ago.

At Peek & Toland, PLLC, we are committed to keeping immigrant families together. It’s a tough time to be undocumented in Texas. We have successfully fought many deportations. Read our immigration success stories here. Please call us at (512) 474-4445.

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Department of Homeland Security Issues Amendments to EB-5 Investor Visas

By Peek & Toland on May 16, 2017

EB-5 investor visas allow foreign nationals and their families to gain green cards if they make a substantial investment in the U.S. economy.

However, a series of scandals in recent years led to calls for a tightening up of the program.

Last year, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a criminal complaint against Regional Centers in Vermont. Two ski resorts were accused of being part of Ponzi schemes. The resorts went into receivership, leaving some innocent overseas investors facing possible deportation.

EB-5 investor visas face reform

Amendments to the EB-5 investment visas program were recently proposed by the Department of Homeland Security, in what was termed a Modernization Rule. A consultation period ended in April.

A foreign investor will need to bring more money into the United States than previously to benefit from EB-5 investor visas.

The EB-5 program gives green cards to foreign investors who create at least 10 jobs. The required investment amount was $1 million. Investors have also been able to make a $500,000 investment in a designated “Targeted Employment Area” (TEA).

A Targeted Employment Area is identified by a state as an area of high unemployment. It’s usually a rural area designated for economic development. The majority of EB-5 investors have set up businesses in TEAs.

However, an investigation last year pointed to potential gerrymandering that meant EB-5 investors were able to set up businesses in affluent areas for $500,000.

The new rule would:

  • Raise required investment amounts from $1 million to $1.8 million and from $500,000 to $1.35 million in deprived areas to reflect current dollar values; and
  • Allow foreign nationals to retain priority dates if an initial investment fails or stalls as they are waiting for a date to become current;
  • Give the Department of Homeland Security the power to designate regional centers. This would remove that responsibility from the states.

The changes were worked out in the final days of the Obama administration. They will be subject to review by the Trump administration.

If you are an overseas investor who wishes to bring job opportunities to Texas, it’s important to hire an immigration lawyer to help you with complicated EB-5 Investor visas. Please contact us for a consultation.

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Improved Border Security and Enforcement is Promised

By Peek & Toland on May 15, 2017

President Donald Trump wasted little time in issuing an executive order on border security and immigration law enforcement.

The issues were the subject of two executive orders issued on January 25, 2017.

The orders were titled Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements. They directed the Department of Homeland Security to start building the wall between the United States and Mexico immediately.

Although the executive order called for an immediate start to the building of that wall, it’s not that simple. Initial funding for the wall could be derived from the existing Secure Fence Act. However, Congress would have to agree to foot the whole bill. By February the anticipated cost rose to $21.6 billion, reported USA Today.

Trump's executive orders promise greater border security

New orders promise greater border security

The figure is double that given earlier by Trump. The cost of acquiring private land, predominantly in Texas, pushed up the estimate.

Other aspects of Trump’s executive order on border security as follows.

  • The ending of the “catch and release” policy.
  • The hiring of more than 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents.
  • The setting up of increased detention space at the border to allow the return of detainees to their home countries.
  • Promotion of further agreements with local and state law enforcement to enforce immigration laws.
  • The identification of all sources of direct and indirect federal aid or assistance given to the Government of Mexico.

Border Security to be Bolstered by More Immigration Officers

The executive order entitled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” focuses on enforcement. It includes provisions to:

  • Add another 10,000 immigration officers to perform law enforcement functions.
  • Compile a quarterly basis a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by undocumented immigrants;
  • Identify and defund ‘sanctuary cities.’
  • Establish an Office for Victims of Crimes Committed by Removable Aliens which would provide support for family members.
  • Reinstate a Secure Communities Program focusing on the deportation of people who threaten to public safety.

The Secure Communities Program replaces the Obama Administration’s Priority Enforcement Program which more narrowly focused deportation on certain criminal offenders, gang members, and people judged to be a danger to national security.

Trump’s executive order provides a legal framework for increased deportations. At Peek & Toland, PLLC, we help immigrants in Austin, Round Rock, San Antonio and further afield with their cancellation of removal actions. You can read more about the process here.  Call us at (512) 474-4445.

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Five Impacts of Trump’s Immigration Policies on Businesses

By Peek & Toland on May 12, 2017

President Trump’s immigration executive orders may have a dramatic impact on businesses. However, we won’t know the full impact until his immigration policies are finalized or the courts reach adjudications.

In January, Trump issued an executive order about 15 minutes before the close of business on Friday. It caused chaos at the airports the next day and led to legal action.

The so-called “travel ban” suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days and blocked citizens of seven mainly Muslim countries – Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, and Libya from traveling to the United States. After legal setbacks, a new order was issued in March that removed Iraq and softened some parts of the original ban.

The original orders were resisted and fought in the courts where they were blocked.

immigration policies impact business

These executive orders and other immigration policies may have an impact on businesses. The main impacts could be.

1 Restricting the Ability of Businesses to Hire Foreign Talent

Technology and financial institution leaders were quick to condemn the travel ban in January. They included Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive at Goldman Sachs and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

The business community fears the ban, whatever form it takes, may impact its ability to attract and retain talent. If global leaders are denied the world’s best talent, the U.S. may suffer and companies could relocate to other countries.

Michael Useem, Wharton management professor and director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management, said many companies hire refugees and people who are on non-immigrant visas. He said.

“So many companies hire refugees, people who are on special visas. It’s just who we are, and this seems to knock the air out of us.”

2 Impacting America’s Reputation for Being “Business Friendly.”

While Donald Trump’s proposals to restrict free trade are not directly linked to immigration there is a clear correlation. At one point, the White House appeared to float a 20 percent tariff on imports from Mexico to finance the building of the border wall to keep out immigrants.

Notwithstanding the trade deficit the U.S. has with Mexico, American companies export approximately $270 billion to its southern neighbor, reported Salon. The article said the idea of steep tariffs is alarming both business leaders and some lawmakers who fear the United States could become a more difficult place to do business.

Texas benefits from a large chunk of the cross-border trade with Mexico.

3 The Need for Greater Vetting of Workers

The president wants businesses to step up their enforcement of immigration laws to ensure they are not hiring undocumented workers. The system of E-Verify may become compulsory.

E-Verify allows employers to obtain electronic verification from the government of an employee’s authorized work status.

It is voluntary but became compulsory in places such as Arizona. In Texas, a bill to require Texas businesses to use E-Verify as a precondition to receiving state contracts, was earmarked as a priority by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

However, E-Verify proved burdensome and bureaucratic when Arizona and Alabama brought it in more than four years ago, reported the Huffington Post.

The Chinese restaurant P.F. Changs used E-Verify. It was still sanctioned for hiring workers who successfully beat the system and was forced to close eight stores in Arizona.

Some experts claim mandatory use of the system could significantly slow down businesses’ efforts to hire employees.

Immigration Policies May Impact Texas Economy

4 Creating A Disincentive to Overseas Investors

The importance of overseas investors to the U.S. economy is illustrated in recent data from the National Foundation for American Policy as we noted last year.

More than half of U.S. businesses valued at $1 billion or more were started up by immigrants, stated the nonpartisan public policy research.

NFAP said immigrants make up over 70 percent of the key members of management or product development teams. By stemming the flow of investment, the United States could lose out on foreign funding.

5 Posing Obstacles for Future Hiring

The initial travel ban instructed federal agencies to consider more in-person interviews. These were to be held at U.S. consular posts and immigration offices in the United States.

Agents were to be instructed to evaluate whether employer-sponsored foreign workers would become a contributing member of society and make a positive contribution to the national interest.

This would have been a “nebulous” test that gives considerable power to officials, stated an article in FastCompany.com.

Restrictions in H1-B visas will also impact hiring. A recent CNN report said the Trump administration is considering restricting spouses and children of H-1B visa holders from coming to the United States. The administration cut the fast-tracking procedure out of the visa program.

It remains to be seen what final shape Trump’s immigration policies and travel bans will take. However, a hostile and suspicious climate for overseas workers coupled with new restrictions to the visas system could exacerbate uncertainties in future hiring for Texas companies.

 If your company is facing uncertainties in hiring foreign workers to fill a skills gap, we can help. Please call our Austin immigration lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

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The Impact of Legislation on Texas Sanctuary Cities

By Peek & Toland on May 11, 2017

Texas sanctuary cities are on the front line of the new, more restrictive approach to immigration that’s sweeping the nation.

While President Donald Trump has threatened to defund sanctuary cities nationally, Texas has also initiated legislation.

A bill that withholds dollars from state coffers for sanctuary cities cleared the Texas Senate in February.

Texas ACLU Executive Director Terri Burke told CNN he would fight the bill all the way.

Funding threat to Texas sanctuary cities

Texas sanctuary cities like Austin could lose funds

Under the terms of Senate Bill 4, law enforcement in Texas municipalities and on college campuses would have to hold onto a suspect while US Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) checks his or her immigration status. Failure to do so could result in funding being withheld.

If the legislation proceeds the first big fight could occur in Austin. Sally Hernandez, the new sheriff of Travis County has pledged to no longer cooperate with detainer requests from ICE and to keep immigrant families together.

When agents make these requests, they ask county jails to hold immigrants if the feds suspect they might be in the country illegally. These detainer requests are controversial because they are often made without a warrant.

The term “sanctuary city” is not a precise one. Some commentators have suggested Hernandez’s stance makes Austin the state’s first sanctuary city. However, there are other cities in the state that take on some of the characteristics of sanctuary cities.

These are cities that will not sanction the use of municipal funds to enforce federal immigration laws.

Often government employees in these cities are instructed not to inquire about the immigration status of people they come into contact with and instructed not to report undocumented workers.

Governor Warns Texas Sanctuary Cities

Texas governor Greg Abbott announced plans to withhold $1.5 million in state law enforcement grant funding from Travis County after Hernandez laid out her proposals in January.

The state has already paid $300,000 to Travis County but will be withholding the rest.

Hernandez has kept her line about detainer requests. She said by focusing local officers’ time and resources on illegal immigrants, they could be compromising the safety of those they are sworn to protect.

Although she will work with immigration officials on some policy areas, she said her department will not honor detainer requests.

The funds were revoked after Abbott declared a “sanctuary city” ban an urgent priority for Texas lawmakers.

Abbot wants to deny Texas sanctuary cities state funds and even to have the power to remove locally elected officials who fail to comply.

If you have an immigration issue, please call our experienced Travis County immigration attorneys at (512) 474-4445.

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Immigration Benefits – The Uncertainties Under Trump’s Executive Orders

By Peek & Toland on May 8, 2017

The states that opposed Donald Trump’s contentious travel ban claimed immigration benefits them and they would face deprivation if the ban was imposed.

In January, Trump issued an immigration executive order. It banned refugees from arriving in the United States for 120 days. The order would keep out arrivals from seven predominantly Muslim nations for three months. The countries in question were Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia. The ban on Syrians was meant to be an indefinite one.

The executive order sparked protests and confusion. It also led to a flurry of legal hearings as the ban was suspended. In March, a revised ban removed Iraq from the list. It also removed the indefinite ban on Syrians.

immigration benefits were a factor in legal case against travel bans

Opponents of Trump’s travel bans cited immigration benefits

James Robart, a U.S. District Judge in Seattle, issued the broadest ruling against the ban. Trump later criticized Robart in tweets

Robart considered the lawsuit brought by the states of Washington and Minnesota.

Lawyers for the states said they were acting in their role of parens patriae of the residents within their borders. In other words, the states were giving themselves the power to act on behalf of people who could not act on their own behalf.

Robart’s decision temporary stayed key portions of the executive order related to terrorism.  The judge agreed that the order would be detrimental to the states that would experience  “immediate and irreparable injury” as a result of the orders.

Judge Said Immigration Benefits Washington State

Robart said the states would lose out from the orders in areas like education, employment, commerce, relations with families and the freedom to travel.

Last year, when Texas led the lawsuit against former President Obama’s executive order to reform immigration, the state’s lawyers tried to prove that allowing more undocumented immigrants to remain and work would hike up the costs of driving licenses.

Robart said Trump’s executive order would impact the missions and operations of educational establishments that would lose students and income. Washington and Minnesota were losing key immigration benefits, according to his rationale.

The judge temporarily blocked aspects of the executive order nationwide pending a decision on the merits of the lawsuit. Days later three judges on the ninth circuit court of appeals in San Francisco upheld Robart’s ruling.

There is a lack of consensus about immigration benefits and immigration remains a polarizing issue. Studies referred to by the George W Bush Institute suggest immigrants fuel economic activity. They cause a phenomenon dubbed the “immigration surplus.”

At Peek & Toland, PLLC, we recognize the benefits of immigrants and can help you assess your immigration options in the United States. Please contact us for a consultation at (512) 474-4445.

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New Map Shows How Many Undocumented Immigrants Work in Texas

By Peek & Toland on May 4, 2017

The issue of undocumented immigrants working is a controversial one in Texas and elsewhere. It was a major issue in the recent presidential election campaign.

Recent research by the Pew Center looked closer at this unauthorized immigrant workforce. It provided figures on how many undocumented workers are present in Texas and other states.

Obtaining figures about the size of the unauthorized immigrant workforce is problematic. Undocumented workers are not allowed to work. There is no official paper trail. The Pew Center relied on estimates using government census data.

The report said about 8 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. were working or looking for work in 2014. They make up about five percent of the civilian labor force.

mapping undocumented immigrants in Texas

The unauthorized immigrant workforce expanded rapidly during the 1990s and early 2000s. The unlawful immigrant workforce fell slightly compared to the start of the recession in 2007.

Unsurprisingly, states with the largest populations of undocumented immigrants have the largest number of undocumented workers.

California had about 1.7 million unauthorized immigrant workers in 2014, Texas, had 1.1 million and New York had 600,000.

Undocumented workers make up about 8.5 percent of the overall workforce in Texas.

The size of the unauthorized immigrant workforce has not changed markedly in the Lone Star State since 2009.

The workforce grew in Washington, Utah, Virginia, Minnesota, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania and fell in California, Georgia, Alabama, Illinois, Kansas, Nevada, South Carolina and Rhode Island.

The nation’s 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants comprised just over a quarter of America’s 43.6 million foreign-born residents in 2014.

Undocumented Immigrants Are More Likely to be of Working Age

The Pew Center survey also showed that unauthorized immigrants make up a larger share of the U.S. labor force (5 percent in 2014) than of the overall US population (3.5 percent).

They are disproportionately likely to be younger of a working age. The study found just over 90 percent of unauthorized immigrant men aged 18 to 64 were working or looking for work two years ago, compared with 79 percent of U.S.-born men of similar age and 84 percent of lawful immigrants in a similar age range.

Texas has one of the highest numbers of undocumented immigrants of any state. If you require help please contact our Austin immigration lawyers for a consultation at (512) 474-4445.

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Deportation of Criminal Noncitizens – The Obstacles Faced by Trump

By Peek & Toland on April 28, 2017

President Donald Trump detailed proposals to increase the deportation of criminal noncitizens in his first week in office.

Undocumented immigrants who commit crimes will be prioritized for removal.

Although he scaled down a proposal to remove as many as 11 million undocumented immigrants to concentrate on up to 3 million with criminal records, doubts linger about the viability of the policy.

Writing in the Washington Post, Kari Hong, a professor at Boston College Law School, said Trump’s policies won’t work.

Criminal noncitizens face deportation

He claimed the approach will be expensive, bureaucratic and unwieldly. He cited the following reasons:

1 Criminal Records May Not Define Violent Crime

Criminal records are not always effective at separating violent and non-violent offenders. In other words, they are a clumsy tool to identify dangerous criminal noncitizens.

There are, for example, green card holders who are fighting deportation due to a crime like petty theft decades ago.

Hong said the definition of “violent” has confounded federal judges for decades.  Until the Supreme Court finally stepped in, many noncitizens were deported from the United States because courts incorrectly concluded that state convictions for driving under the influence were crimes of violence. In one case in Virginia, spitting at a police officer was judged to be a violent crime and hence grounds for deportation.

2 The Immigration Courts Are Under Severe Pressure

Recently, in this blog, we highlighted the severe pressures on the immigration courts.

With the national backlog of cases inching up toward 1 million, the courts have almost no capacity to take on another massive influx of cases.

Hong said every noncitizen is entitled to a hearing no matter how he or she is rounded up. It’s not a rubber stamping exercise. As many as half of all those who appear before immigration courts win their cases. You can read about our cancellation of removal cases here.

At present, many noncitizens are waiting as long as three years for their hearing.

3 Deportation is Expensive

The cost of incarceration of noncitizens is extremely expensive. Trump has already floated the idea of building new immigrant detention centers.

Hong said as many as 30,000 people are currently locked up at an annual cost of more than $2 billion.

The growth in the deportation of criminal noncitizens envisaged by Trump would add to the costs of incarceration. More immigration officials would be needed to round up those set to be deported.

Hong makes the point that deportation was stepped up under the Obama administration and more than 2.5 million people were deported over the course of his eight years in office. Obama was nicknamed the “deporter in chief.”

However, the level of deportations fell during his second term, partly because of the costs involved.

At Peek & Toland, PLLC, we realize this is a stressful time to be an immigrant, even if you are a green card holder. Our Austin family immigration lawyers can help you. Please call us at (512) 474-4445.

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How America’s Busy Immigration Courts Would Swell Under Trump

By Peek & Toland on April 26, 2017

The nation’s immigration courts already face massive backlogs for deportation hearings. The pressures are predicted to grow further under the pro-deportation presidency of Donald Trump.

An article on 89.3 KPCC stated the burdens on the courts may grow exponentially over the next few months.

The station said America’s immigration courts were burdened by a backlog of half a million cases before Trump’s inauguration. The pressures in 2016 were unprecedented.

Cases being put on the calendar years from their initial hearing. More than 526,000 cases were stuck in the system stated the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. California alone has 100,000 cases with wait times of 2-4 years.

Immigration courts face a massive backlog

Immigration courts face a massive backlog

Last year, we noted Texas has one of the largest immigration case backlogs in the country.

Immigration courts have a backlog of 89,000 cases in the Lone Star State. In Houston alone, the number of cases held up in the courts rose from 6,423 to 36,136 from 2010 to 2016, according to the report.

The backlogs reflect an increased emphasis on deportations that took place under Barack Obama’s presidency. Trump has vowed to increase the size of the deportation force by employing an extra 5,000 Border Patrol agents and 10,000 immigration officers.

Jennifer Chacón, a law professor at the University of California, warned the crisis was likely to hit in 2017. She said:

“This is the year that the crisis really came to a head. We’ve had growing backlogs, but people are getting their cases calendered for years from now.”

Reports also point out there are too few judges to cope with the demands facing the immigration courts.

We noted there are just six immigration judges on the bench in Houston. The immigration court’s caseload is predicted to double by 2019 without more judges being taken on.

Funding for the immigration courts has continuously lagged behind that of federal enforcement, according to the Houston Chronicle. The publication states the courts are still struggling with the mass migration from Central America to the United States in 2014 when many unaccompanied children flooded over the border.

The pressure on immigration courts has made legal proceedings involving undocumented immigrants increasingly stressful and fragmented families. Our Texas family immigration lawyers can help with your case. Call us today at (512) 474-4445.

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Texas Governor Seeks to Remove Sheriffs Over Refusals of Detainer Requests

By Peek & Toland on April 25, 2017

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is seeking the power to remove law enforcement officials who fail to comply with federal detainer requests.

The governor has aimed his comments at new Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez who has imposed a policy would limit compliance with federal immigration authorities in Austin.

Hernandez said she would restrict her staff’s compliance with federal detainer requests to hold undocumented prisoners.

Greg Abbott seeks to derail Travis County on detainer requests

Moves are afoot to clamp down on Austin’s status as a sanctuary city

The sheriff ran for office on a platform that included limiting compliance with these requests. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials make detainer requests of jails when they ask local law enforcement officials to hold inmates who may be illegally in the United States.

Detainer requests are sometimes illegally placed and done so without a warrant.

Hernandez’s stance is consistent with the policies of a sanctuary city. Austin’s police also have a policy not to ask people who are arrested their immigration status.

Abbott told Fox News he and other lawmakers will seek to push through new rules to remove Texas sheriffs from office if they don’t cooperate with federal immigration officials over the handling of individuals who are thought to be undocumented immigrants.

Abbott previously warned he will strip state grant funding from Travis County if Hernandez does not change tack. However, the sheriff remains defiant, according to media reports and has gained a national profile in the contentious immigration stand-off with the federal government.

The governor warned Texas sheriffs would also face criminal and civil penalties if they did not comply with detainer requests from ICE.

One opponent of the policy is Congressman Lloyd Doggett. He told The Statesman Abbott’s proposal was unlawful and neither the governor or the legislature has the authority to remove an elected sheriff from office.

Hernandez will honor detainers requests only in cases in which a suspect has been charged with a serious offense like murder, human trafficking or sexual assault. Federal agents obtain a court order or an arrest warrant.

Our Travis county immigration attorneys work hard to keep families together. If you have been hit with a detainer request, you may have rights. Contact us here for help.

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