Mexifornia: A State of Becoming

Immigration seems to be a hot topic these days at American Catholic.  The author who best represents my views is Victor Davis Hanson, one of my favorite living historians,  in his book Mexifornia:  A State of Becoming.  In that book Hanson turned his gaze to a subject he is personally familiar with: the transformation of his native California by massive illegal immigration from Mexico. Hanson is not anti-Mexican. He has several Mexican relatives, his daughters are dating Mexican-Americans and most of the people he grew up with are Mexican-American or Mexican. What Hanson is opposed to is our feckless non-policy on immigration which allows steady waves of illegals to flood our border states and does not give us time to allow us to assimilate the Mexican immigrants here. Hanson believes strongly that the vast majority of immigrants, given time and opportunity, will assimilate and become good citizens.   That is my view also.   However it is impossible for this to be accomplished unless we gain control of our southern border and curb most illegal immigration.   A good book on a major issue that both the Republican and Democrat parties have steadfastly ignored, until the passage of the Arizona law. 

 Mexifornia came out in 2003.  Hanson wrote an article in 2007 for City Journal reviewing what had happened in the intervening years, which may be read here.  I find his class analysis of the immigration question interesting:

Since Mexifornia appeared, the debate also no longer splits along liberal/conservative, Republican/Democrat, or even white/brown fault lines. Instead, class considerations more often divide Americans on the issue. The majority of middle-class and poor whites, Asians, African-Americans, and Hispanics wish to close the borders. They see few advantages to cheap service labor, since they are not so likely to need it to mow their lawns, watch their kids, or clean their houses. Because the less well-off eat out less often, use hotels infrequently, and don’t periodically remodel their homes, the advantages to the economy of inexpensive, off-the-books illegal-alien labor again are not so apparent.

But the downside surely is apparent. Truck drivers, carpenters, janitors, and gardeners— unlike lawyers, doctors, actors, writers, and professors—correctly feel that their jobs are threatened, or at least their wages lowered, by cheaper rival workers from Oaxaca or Jalisco. And Americans who live in communities where thousands of illegal aliens have arrived en masse more likely lack the money to move when Spanish-speaking students flood the schools and gangs proliferate. Poorer Americans of all ethnic backgrounds take for granted that poverty provides no exemption from mastering English, so they wonder why the same is not true for incoming Mexican nationals. Less than a mile from my home is a former farmhouse whose new owner moved in several stationary Winnebagos, propane tanks, and outdoor cooking facilities—and apparently four or five entire families rent such facilities right outside his back door. Dozens live where a single family used to—a common sight in rural California that reifies illegal immigration in a way that books and essays do not.

The problem with all this is that our now-spurned laws were originally intended to ensure an (admittedly thin) veneer of civilization over innate chaos—roads full of drivers who have passed a minimum test to ensure that they are not a threat to others; single-family residence zoning to ensure that there are adequate sewer, garbage, and water services for all; periodic county inspections to ensure that untethered dogs are licensed and free of disease and that housing is wired and plumbed properly to prevent mayhem; and a consensus on school taxes to ensure that there are enough teachers and classrooms for such sudden spikes in student populations.

All these now-neglected or forgotten rules proved costly to the taxpayer. In my own experience, the slow progress made in rural California since the 1950s of my youth—in which the county inspected our farm’s rural dwellings, eliminated the once-ubiquitous rural outhouse, shut down substandard housing, and fined violators in hopes of providing a uniform humane standard of residence for all rural residents—has been abandoned in just a few years of laissez-faire policy toward illegal aliens. My own neighborhood is reverting to conditions common about 1950, but with the insult of far higher tax rates added to the injury of nonexistent enforcement of once-comprehensive statutes. The government’s attitude at all levels is to punish the dutiful citizen’s misdemeanors while ignoring the alien’s felony, on the logic that the former will at least comply while the latter either cannot or will not.

Fairness about who is allowed into the United States is another issue that reflects class divides—especially when almost 70 percent of all immigrants, legal and illegal, arrive from Mexico alone. Asians, for example, are puzzled as to why their relatives wait years for official approval to enter the United States, while Mexican nationals come across the border illegally, counting on serial amnesties to obtain citizenship.

These class divisions cut both ways, and they help explain the anomaly of the Wall Street Journal op-ed page mandarins echoing the arguments of the elite Chicano studies professors. Both tend to ridicule the far less affluent Minutemen and English-only activists, in part because they do not experience firsthand the problems associated with illegal immigration but instead find millions of aliens grist for their own contrasting agendas. Indeed, every time an alien crosses the border legally, fluent in English and with a high school diploma, the La Raza industry and the corporate farm or construction company alike most likely lose a constituent.

 A question I throw open to blog debate.  To what extent, if any, is Hanson correct that there is a class dimension in regard to the debate on immigration? 

 

Update:

Hanson’s most recent thoughts on illegal immigration are contained in a column he wrote on April 24 of this year.

Illegal What?

Almost everything said in association with “illegal immigration” is false. No, the now stalled fence is not a futile symbol of apartheid; in places where it is finished, it has discouraged illegal entry and reminded us that all counties have rights of autonomy.

Do not believe that “illegal alien” is necessarily a hurtful or inexact term. Everyone who crosses the border without proper authorization is both doing something “illegal” (not a mere “infraction”), and is an alien (not a U.S. citizen; “alien” = “not of this place”.) When I lived in Greece in the 1970s, I was an alien; had I overstayed my visa, or accepted work without proper documentation, I would have been an illegal alien.

“Anti-immigrant” is also a lie peddled in service to open borders — a lie by virtue that it deliberately blends “immigrant” with “illegal immigrant” to suggest opposition to all legal immigration. (In fact, Americans quite clearly support legal immigration.) It’s a lie by virtue that it personalizes opposition to particular “immigrants” rather than the concept of “illegal immigration.” And it’s a lie by its emphasis on “anti,” since opponents of open borders are not “anti” anything; they are pro-law and pro-enforcement of existing statutes. Those who break the law or advocate undermining existing legislation are clearly “anti” a lot.

Avoid blanket generalizations that all illegal aliens are either criminals or all hard-working wonderful people, just trying to get ahead. Instead, simply imagine what you would do if you lived in dire poverty under a corrupt, racist system and survival was a mere 6 hours a way to the north — and factor in all the psychological, emotional, and intellectual rationalizations that you would embrace to justify your illegal entry and efforts to feed you or your family, either through minimum wage steady employment, off the books cash for ad hoc labor, or government entitlement, or all three.

To the degree we are getting audacious bold people willing to take risks to come to America, we are also perhaps getting people who have little problem breaking the law with the acknowledgment that they will have to keep breaking law for years after arrival. I’ll let you decide which plus does or does not make up for which minus in that illegal immigration equation.

To the degree illegal aliens are poor in comparison, not with their comrades back home, but with communities in their new country, is to the degree anyone would be so, who does not know the language, does not have legal sanction and does not have a high school diploma. Racism plays little, if any, role. To remedy all three as quickly and painlessly as possible, one would of course support making speaking English optional, making being legal superfluous, and making diplomas mere certificates rather than proof of rigorous years of education.

To the degree one is poor, is to the degree all unskilled laborers are in a terrible recession, and to the degree any immigrants would be, who, on limited wages, in aggregate send back a collective $25 billion home in remittances.

So what is illegal immigration? For most, it is a desperate attempt by the poor of Latin America to find a better life in America, made all the more attractive because postmodern America has no confidence in its institutions and thus asks little of its immigrants in accepting our own culture.

And for Us, the Hosts?

For the corporation it is a way to profit, masked in libertarian apologetics, of letting the market adjudicate labor costs without government interference.

For the racial tribalist it is payback for the Mexican War of two centuries prior.

For the liberal machine, it is an instant way through serial amnesty to hook a block constituency and redraw the electoral map of the American Southwest.

For the postmodernist, it is a way to accelerate the end of the old melting pot and to substitute a salad bowl of constantly competing ethnic and tribal interests that can be united under elite liberal guidance to thwart the entrenched interests of supposedly corporate and nativist-run America.

The problem I think right now for the liberal cause is not just the Tea Parties. Rather, tens of millions of Americans have tuned out the sermons, and no longer believe much of what they are told. They clearly do not care for the moral lectures that they are subjected to. Instead, they suspect that their self-appointed moral censors are either self-interested or disingenuous — or worse still.

So how odd: we live in an age of untruth in which millions privately shrug and nod at the daily lies of our elites.

Go here to read the rest.

 

 

38 Responses to Mexifornia: A State of Becoming

  • Perhaps some. My parents, whose parents came from Mexico, are native Californians. They have live in the same house for 50 years and added one room and remodeled the kitchen once during those years. My father was always a blue collar worker and my mother a stay-at-home mom. We were poor. They are not pleased by illegal immigration especially their perceived drain on Califoria’s resources by illegals.
    When I was in college, I had first hand experience with La Raza. Most were third generation Mexican Americans like myself. They were very well educated and living the life at an Ivy League school. They were also quite pro-illegal immigration, in favor of large govt. entitlements to illegal immigrants and against any restrictions on immigration.
    I think there is a real divide amongh Hispanics on illegal immigration that is in part influenced by socio-economic status. Don’t know about other groups.

  • One of my roommates in College was the son of Mexicans who initially came into the country illegally. He used to tell me that the biggest problem for upward mobility in his neighborhood were the new illegals who could be hired for a song by employers.

  • This wouldn’t be a problem except that liberal progressive Catholics have encouraged this situation. To them, it is against social justice NOT to welcome the illgeal alien, and many bishops and priests feel the same way. This kind of nonsense liberal thinking has to be purged. BTW, it’s the rich, well-off liberals like liberal Catholic Nancy Pelosi who encourage this sort of thing.

  • Donald- I believe the 800 lb. gorilla in this debate is “it’s the economy, stupid”, more so than “it’s the unsecured borders, stupid”. But it is a both/and deal to a large degree with these two major factors figuring strongly.

    I know Joe H. has agreed with me that NAFTA needs to be immediately rehauled- my own social doctrine-inspired view is that market theory cannot stand alone, there is a need for direction and intervention on the part of the political authorities to ensure the common good. The proof that NAFTA as currently configured is a bust, is found in the pudding of extreme circumstances of so many Mexicans leaving home to find opportunities as illegal entrants into the U.S. As it is said- the Mexican people have voted on NAFTA with their feet.

    This is my beef with the non-racist “conservatives” when discussion of the problem of illegal immigration comes up- they don’t or won’t acknowledge the huge role that economics has played- and the shared responsibility for this that both the Mexican and the American establishment powers has played in creating such terrible conditions of life for average folk south of the border for the most part. NAFTA was sold to the masses as the cure for illegal immigration pressures- facts on the ground suggest that the problems have grown exponentially since NAFTA.

    Now if we effectively seal the borders and do nothing about the economic relationship between us and Mexico, I would predict some dramatic upheaval to take place inside Mexico- violence, destabilization, perhaps revolution- these could be ultimately curative, but I would like to try to ease out of the crisis with substantial reforms along economic development lines as my first-stroke strategy- if there is a sense of hope that the Mexican-U.S. establishments are going to be working for real on a development model akin to post-war building up of physical infrastructure, ready access to affordable education- all the way through college levels, and family subsidies to make up the short-term difference between what the market supplies as wages, and what people actually require to keep their families intact and progressing by the generations- (I will provide some social doctrine backing for this bit in a later post devoted to freeing ourselves from ideologies part 2).

    In conclusion- we could devote several billion dollars to building up an air-tight, Israel-style wall and checkpoint system for border security- and then sit back and watch the Mexicans tear themselves up for awhile and maybe get sorted out in a way that meets the demands of the majority of families within- or we can be proactive now, admit that the economic relationship and trade agreement is flawed and failing- and re-visit all of it- inviting all the major interests- not just the largest corporate ones- to be part of a transparent process of negotiation- plenty of media openness to ensure the general public in all countries affected- of course Canada is to be included in all this as well- everyone who cares to know will know what is going on and could then take on more trust that the system will be looking out for the common good, and not just the interests of the few in the high-end financial sectors- recall that right after NAFTA passed a really huge bail-out took place to cover the losses of those high-ender speculators who first pumped NAFTA up into a bubble investment, and then begged for and got a massive public bail-out when the bubble predictably burst- sound familiar?

  • That is just economic nonsense. The thread of Mexican prosperity does not hang on an 8% excise on imports.

  • Tim:

    Please make your case: What exactly changed in the law as the result of NAFTA, and by what causative mechanism did these changes make the situation in Mexico worse?

    It seems to me that this connection is largely assumed in your previous post: Not to say that you aren’t correct, but only that the case isn’t made and, as the fellow who brought it up, you ought to make it.

  • To Art Deco- if NAFTA has such a small effect on things- why has everyone made such a big fuss about it- those who advocated it and pushed for it made all sorts of broad claims about how much improvement would come to all with the passage of this trade agreement. I’m not saying that Art Deco was making this claim- but I recall the debate prior to the passage of NAFTA, and I have stood in front of a U.S. Senator a couple of years ago and stated that NAFTA was a failure and needed to be re-negotiated and he unleashed a stream of the highest sounding praise for the NAFTA trade pact- giving it all manner of credit for being one of the greatest things out there- so I’m not sure what to believe when the establishment powers have always been making bold claims as to the power for good that NAFTA held out- and now I’m told by Art Deco that it is pretty insignificant- I know that the bail-out of investors after NAFTA was not insignificant- so I tend to believe that NAFTA has been a powerful shaper of economic conditions- but I’m open to further discussion on that- and even if NAFTA is more small potatoes than I imagined it to be- there is a corresponding relationship between the U.S. and Mexico on economic matters whereupon Mexican prosperity and solidity is important for our border security and for economic and moral considerations. Rich countries can never be smug or self-contented especially with a poor country camped out just outside the gate- think of Lazarus the begger and the rich man parable.

  • Hanson is probably right about the class divide on this issue among whites and blacks but he’s wrong in his belief that it applies also to Asians and Hispanics.

    The best way to determine an Asian or Hispanic’s stance on this issue is to ask whether he has friends and relatives in his native country. That’s a greater divide. It’s an empathy divide. It’s easier to be an America Firster if you aren’t supporting your mother back in Mexico.

    Fairness about who is allowed into the United States is another issue that reflects class divides—especially when almost 70 percent of all immigrants, legal and illegal, arrive from Mexico alone. Asians, for example, are puzzled as to why their relatives wait years for official approval to enter the United States, while Mexican nationals come across the border illegally, counting on serial amnesties to obtain citizenship.

    There’s no puzzle. Poor Asians come illegally. Wealthier Asians aren’t willing to wash dishes so they wait to come legally so they can work for Google or open a business. If you hand immigration policy over to any non-political subgroup of Asians, they’ll throw the doors open. Except maybe poor third and fourth generation Asians working in landscaping. All 3 of them.

  • if NAFTA has such a small effect on things- why has everyone made such a big fuss about it

    If Obama was born in the US, why has everyone made such a big fuss about it? The answer to both questions: Willful ignorance.

  • “A good book on a major issue that both the Republican and Democrat parties have steadfastly ignored, until the passage of the Arizona law.”

    I have to say after living through 2006 and especially 2007 the issue was not ignored I will tell you that

  • From Victor’s article

    ““Anti-immigrant” is also a lie peddled in service to open borders — a lie by virtue that it deliberately blends “immigrant” with “illegal immigrant” to suggest opposition to all legal immigration.”

    I think he undercuts his case complaing about the term anti Immigrant when he uses the term “open borders” which is a term that misused way too much

    Furhter some of the LEAFING VOICES in this debate and one we see on the TV and in fact at the National Review itself are very very anti legal immigration. That is in the mix too

  • Just curious: who at NR is anti-legal immigration?

  • I think that he is right that there is a class divide on support for more immigration — though I don’t think it’s primarily because of the more well-off having illegal immigrant gardeners and maids.

    It’s easier for those who have “made it” to say, “It’s a land of opportunity, we should let more people in like my ancestors were and give them the chance to make it to.” Those who are much less economically secure are more likely to see any influx of additional labor simply as competition — and people who will make the neighborhood seem messier and more chaotic.

  • “Just curious: who at NR is anti-legal immigration?”

    Mark Krikorian is the mnain immigration guy over at the Corner. He belongs and has worked for various John Tanton groups that are all related and basically want to halt legal immigration to a trickle

    For them illegal aliens are a sad issue.

  • Just curious: who at NR is anti-legal immigration?

    Mark Krikorian wrote a book called The New Case Against Immigration: Both Legal and Illegal. Does that count?

  • Ramesh Ponnuru has also argued that problems associated with illegal immigration also apply to legal immigration.

  • Tim,

    It’s hard for me to see how NAFTA is the primary villain in this (or to be honest, even much of a peripheral villain) given that it wasn’t even passed until 1994. At least from a Southern California perspective, there was already a massive illegal immigration from Mexico problem in the 80s and early 90s, before NAFTA was even passed. Nor was Mexico previously in good shape which NAFTA somehow destroyed — it’s been gradually improving over the years, but the main problem is that has been economically far behind the US for 150 years or more.

    NAFTA repealed US tariffs which previously applied to about 50% of Mexican exports to the US and Mexican tariffs which previously applied to about 30% of US exports to Mexico. It also made cross-border investment and business ownership easier. (Which is why, for instance, my current employer is in the midst of closing factories in central Texas and opening factories in Juarez.)

    As for why it’s been so controversial… Honestly, I don’t know, other than that it’s a convenient peg on which to hang one’s opinions about free trade and Mexico, whether one is for or against.

  • “I have to say after living through 2006 and especially 2007 the issue was not ignored I will tell you that”

    Ingnored jh in actually attempting to do something effective about the problem. I think one aspect of the hullabaloo that has arisen in regard to the Arizona law is the fear on one side, and the hope on the other, that this law might prove effective in combating illegal immigration. Attempts to block it in court will of course be fierce, and may be successful, but if it is ever allowed to be implemented, and if it does prove effective, watch it being replicated in quite a few states.

  • Krikorian also borders on being an anti-Catholic bigot:

    http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=MWIzNDcwY2RlMzcyNzA4YWQ1ODVmMzgwYjY2NWJhMjU=

    Whenever someone starts a sentence with “Unlike this guy, I am not a Catholic-basher” after having quoted said “guy” in suppport of his premise, odds are that he is, indeed, a “Catholic basher”.

  • I think one aspect of the hullabaloo that has arisen in regard to the Arizona law is the fear on one side, and the hope on the other, that this law might prove effective in combating illegal immigration.

    That, or we’re just escalating from sticking our metaphorical finger in the hole in the dike to shoving our head in.

  • NAFTA phased out a lot of the ag restrictions. Mexico was flooded with US corn, and Mexico’s farmers couldn’t compete. A lot of the recent illegal immigrants are former corn farmers.

    http://migration.ucdavis.edu/mn/more.php?id=2025_0_2_0

  • Donald I think the proposals given in 2006 and 2007 in fact were a good way of doing something about it.

    However it appears various factions in this debate on the left and right will not move a inch. In fact they raise holy heck if anyone shows moving a inch.

    Doing something about it is the need to address all the issues here. THe problem is just focusing on Enforcement or just focusing on citizenship and a pathway to it causes problems.

    We have millions of children of illegal aliens that are American citizens right now. What happens to them when all these mass deportations occur? Someone has to take care of them. Does the fact that their parents live in the shawdows in fact causing major future problems for us. I suspect it is. Do they fit in the ewquation anywhere? Or are they acceptable collateral damage that perhaps will come back to haunt us big time in the future

    Now that does not give every illegal with a child a free pass. Under proposals those same folks would have to meet certain requirements to stay and no doubt many would mmet the mark. But at least it will make the afteraffects less severe on the whole.

  • It looks like in regards to agriculture, trade in both directions has more than tripled since 1993, and the US has maintained a $1B trade surplus throughout:

    a brief PDF with government data on the topic

    Primary increases in US agricultural exports to Mexico have been in commodities which the US produces very efficiently in very high volumes: beef and corn.

    The big increases in Mexican exports to the US have been products which can’t be grown in the US or have different growing seasons farther south: coffee, cocoa, fresh vegetable, fresh fruit.

  • There is of course a huge divide between how Mexico wants America to treat its immigrants and how they treat their own:

    http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=14632

  • But Phillip that’s different! (Unless you are talking to Central Americans of course.)

    http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2008/05/01/20080501mexico-immig0501-ON.html

  • There is of course a huge divide between how Mexico wants America to treat its immigrants and how they treat their own

    I’m not sure we should be using Mexico as a guide for how our laws should be.

  • Tim:

    No argument that the better off Mexico is internally, the better for everyone.

    Perhaps NAFTA is the disaster you may think it is, perhaps not, perhaps it is indifferent. Without accurate information, changes or overhauls could make things unintentionally worse. Of course, accurate info on just about anything of that nature (legislative/governmental impacts on economics) is hard to come by.

  • Not a guide. Just perspective. I suspect immigrants (illegal or otherwise) to this country will find Arizona’s recent law enlightened compared to most other countries laws on immigration.

  • I read an interesting book a couple of years ago- Global Class War by Jeff Faux- it really tore into the backstory of NAFTA and the bailout that followed- anyone here read the same? I would like to think that Catholic commerce networks could be established to develop fair trade avenues for producers and consumers- I’ve had Catholic Relief Service reps out to my classes to present on their Fair Trade programs and promotions- I like the notion of Catholics linking up across borders and being conscious of the morality bound up in our economic relationships between those who are doing ok and those not. This way we don’t have to rely on big Gov or big corporate interests all the time.

  • That is true. I think Benedict XVI says very much the same thing in Caritas in Veritate.

  • We have immingration laws and regardless of where the illegal entry person is from, they need to be enforced. Many current citizens are children of past immingrants from many different countries who came here became citizens and followed the law and many still do. They assimilated into US society and norms while still holding their cultural backgorund which has made the country great. To see the group of protesters and many illegals and their approach to demonizing the USA is sickening. The refrain from politicians who support these illegals and who are only looking for a vote is also sickening as if they are above the law for strictly a political means. To allow an amnesty is wrong as it would only cause another problem in the future if all illegals are allowed now. They should have to register and be sent back to their homeland and even if it takes ten years for legal entry so be it. Enployers and all others who harbour or utilize illegals for any purpose should face a mandatory very high fine. The people in Arizona were forced to act as our government has not due to politics. If the IRS has records of illegals here or SSN or any shelter with employers of any kind , they should be giving the information to Imingration officials and these persons also face a very steep finanical fine til the lure of employment here and the fact enforcement will be swift and sure would do more than building fences or barriers. If they then still try to enter illegaly , they will be denied legal entry in the future for any reason. They now know they once they get in , if they lay low and keep a quiet profile, they will be able to stay, as laws are being enforced.

  • “Both tend to ridicule the far less affluent Minutemen and English-only activists, in part because they do not experience firsthand the problems associated with illegal immigration but instead find millions of aliens grist for their own contrasting agendas.”

    And that’s why both will be ignored and ultimately rendered irrelevant.

  • This is my beef with the non-racist “conservatives” when discussion of the problem of illegal immigration comes up- they don’t or won’t acknowledge the huge role that economics has played- and the shared responsibility for this that both the Mexican and the American establishment powers has played in creating such terrible conditions of life for average folk south of the border for the most part. NAFTA was sold to the masses as the cure for illegal immigration pressures- facts on the ground suggest that the problems have grown exponentially since NAFTA.

    The liberalization of trade induces small improvements in aggregate welfare and appears to have positive effects on economic dynamism as well. The benefits are general but not necessarily equal between the parties. There may be effects on income distribution within particular parties that are disagreeable and of course there are transition costs. IIRC, Mancur Olson floated a thesis many years ago that there are benefits not captured in econometric models and which might derive from the disruption of domestic cartels. I am not sure if anyone else developmed or tested that idea.

    The NAFTA treaty concerns the regime governing cross-border merchandise trade. There is a section which concerns the regulation of financial services. Mexico did experience a currency crisis some months after the NAFTA treaty was ratified. I suppose it could be Jeff Faux’ thesis that the liberalization in cross-border branch banking somehow exacerbated the currency crisis. I couldn’t tell you as I have not read the book. (I do not think that is the usual diagnosis in cases of financial crisis). It seems to me if you are concerned about the effect of hot money you could address that separately from the question of how to govern trade in merchandise or non-factor services.

    Latin America has some signature problems (dysfunctional labor markets and wretchedly skewed income distribution among them). However, Latin American countries are not, when measured on a global scale, peculiarly impoverished; they are about average, and more affluent than they were a generation ago. I do not know why you should regard it as anomalous that Mexico has not had an experience of economic development like that of South Korea – five decades of smokin’ economic growth which largely erases the difference in standards of living between the country in question and Switzerland. There are only about a half-dozen non-European countries who have managed that since the War.

  • The sales pitches of politicians often turn out to be…imprecise. You expected something else?

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