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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. Trump Administration Lies About the Economic Impact of Refugees

    There's a Yiddish expression, "A halber emes iz a gantse lign,” which means, “A half-truth is a whole lie.” A recent article from the New York Times demonstrates that the Trump Administration is using half truths in order to justify its plan to reduce refugee admissions to historically low levels for the upcoming fiscal year. From the Times article:

    Trump administration officials, under pressure from the White House to provide a rationale for reducing the number of refugees allowed into the United States next year, rejected a study by the Department of Health and Human Services that found that refugees brought in $63 billion more in government revenues over the past decade than they cost.

    In other words, political officials suppressed a study from HHS because the results of that study did not support Mr. Trump's policy goals.
    The draft study was completed in July but never publicly released. Instead, it was leaked to the NY Times. The study was meant to look at the costs and benefits of refugee resettlement to our economy. How much do refugees cost us for things like public benefits, education, and law enforcement? How much do refugees contribute through taxes? Are refugees a net gain or a net loss, at least in terms of dollars spent and received?

    The 55-page draft study found that refugees "contributed an estimated $269.1 billion in revenues to all levels of government" between 2005 and 2014 through the payment of federal, state and local taxes. Taking into account resettlement and other costs, the report estimates that "the net fiscal impact of refugees was positive over the 10-year period, at $63.0 billion.” When refugees and their family members were counted, the benefits were more modest, but still positive, at $16.9 billion. These results align with another recent study on the economic impact of refugees conducted by two professors at the University of Notre Dame.

    The final, three-page report that HHS ultimately submitted includes only money spent by the government on refugees, without including revenue--literally, half the truth (and that's being generous, since they reduced the size of the report from 55 pages to three). Maybe I can do the same thing on my own taxes--include only my expenses, but leave out revenue. I am not sure how that would go over with the IRS, but I'm guessing not well.

    This strategy--of promoting the negative by leaving out the positive--is nothing new for the Trump Administration. Last Spring, the Department of Homeland Security launched the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office. According to DHS, VOICE will, “Provide quarterly reports studying the effects of the victimization by criminal aliens present in the United States.” So we get to see the negative impact of aliens on the United States, but we hear nothing about the positive contributions made by such people (and of course, the evidence is pretty conclusive that aliens commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans).

    Not all government employees are on board with the Trump Administration's anti-refugee program. The most obvious dissenter is the anonymous person who leaked the HHS report to the NY Times. More publicly, the State Department's Director of Refugee Admissions told an audience at the Heritage Foundation, "We see... that refugees do very, very well, and it’s one of the reasons that we would like to see more long-term studies about refugee success and perhaps failure so that we can really see those areas that we should focus on more.... They’re taking jobs that are otherwise unfilled, and refugees, frankly, do quite well."

    There also seems to be internal disagreement about how many refugees we should admit to the country. For FY 2017, President Obama raised the refugee ceiling from 85,000 to 110,000, but President Trump has proposed reducing refugee admissions to 45,000 for FY 2018, which starts on October 1. Interestingly, officials at the National Security Council, the State Department, and the Department of Defense have lined up to oppose such a precipitous drop, presumably because they recognize the benefits of our refugee program.

    By next week, we should know for sure how many refugees President Trump plans to admit in FY 2018. I'm not optimistic about the numbers, but I understand that reducing immigration was one of Mr. Trump's core promises when he ran for president. What probably bothers me most about the whole process, though, is the blatant dishonesty of the President, who is trying to justify his refugee policy based on half truths and whole lies. An honest discussion might not result in a different outcome in terms of numbers, but it would be far better for our country and our democracy.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
    Tags: refugees, trump Add / Edit Tags
  2. Another Open Letter to My Friends at DHS and DOJ: After Joe Arpaio, What Now?

    The Joe Arpaio pardon is an affront to anyone concerned about the rule of law. And this includes the lawyers, judges, and adjudicators I know at the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.

    But before we get to that, we need to talk a bit about "Sheriff Joe." A brief overview of his career as sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona reveals various misdeeds, including--
    abuse of power; misuse of funds; failure to investigate sex crimes; improper clearance of cases; unlawful enforcement of immigration laws; and election law violations. A Federal court monitor was appointed to oversee his office's operations because of complaints of racial profiling. The U.S. Department of Justice concluded that Arpaio oversaw the worst pattern of racial profiling in U.S. history, and subsequently filed suit against him for unlawful discriminatory police conduct. Arpaio's office paid more than $146 million in fees, settlements, and court awards.

    But all that is not what ultimately led to where we are now. Mr. Arpaio was a defendant in a civil rights lawsuit. The judge ordered him to stop racial profiling, but Mr. Arpaio refused to comply. In a civil contempt proceeding, Mr. Arpaio admitted as much to the Court: "Defendants acknowledge and appreciate that they have violated the Court's orders and that there are consequences for these violations." In this particular case, the "consequences" proposed by Mr. Arpaio were for the tax payers of Maricopa County to foot the bill for a victim compensation fund. That didn't pan out, and Mr. Arpaio was charged with criminal contempt.

    He was convicted on July 31, 2017. The presiding judge wrote that Mr. Arpaio had "willfully violated an order of the court" by failing "to ensure his subordinates' compliance and by directing them to continue to detain persons for whom no criminal charges could be filed." Sentencing was scheduled for October.

    Then last week, on a Friday night in the midst of a hurricane, President Trump issued a pardon for the criminal contempt and any other charges that might arise out of the same litigation. In an explanatory statement, the White House called Mr. Arpaio a "worthy candidate" who "protect[ed] the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration."

    So what does this mean? Of course, it means that Joe Arpaio won't be going to jail. But on a more fundamental level, what does it mean for the rule of law? And what does it mean for those who enforce the law?

    It seems to me that the clear signal sent by this pardon is that violating the law--by racial profiling or other means--is acceptable in order to rid our country of the "scourge" of illegal immigration. The ends justify the means.

    Such an approach is antithetical to any society that values law and order, and that opposes tyranny. Those sworn to protect our nation's laws must hold themselves to the highest standards. It is not for them to decide which laws to follow based on their subjective beliefs about right and wrong. They must follow the law. And when they don't, they must be held accountable. When regular citizens fail to obey the law, it is anarchy. When law enforcement officers fail to obey the law, it is fascism.

    And so the Joe Arpaio pardon is an endorsement of fascism. Whether you think all "illegals" should be rounded up and deported, or whether you think they should all be granted green cards makes no difference to this analysis. Fascism is fascism and law is law.
    So what does all this mean for attorneys, judges, adjudicators, and others at DOJ and DHS?

    It seems to me that you have a duty to uphold the law, regardless of whether the President is willing to tolerate or even encourage you to violate it in the service of his goals. That's pretty basic, and we've seen examples of government officials following the law even when the President discouraged it (see Jeff Sessions and recusal).

    But I think there is something more you can do. You can err on the side of non-citizens. Especially these days, the deck is stacked against aliens seeking immigration benefits. Simple mistakes on forms can lead to severe consequences. Minor criminal convictions can lead to banishment for life. The over-broad terrorism bar treats victims of terror like terrorists. Prosecutorial discretion is gone. The denial rate for asylum cases is on the rise. We are seeing more and more requests for evidence, and the wait time for many immigration benefits is getting longer. Not to mention the travel ban, increased use of detention, the backlog, etc., etc. In other words, the situation on the immigrant-side of the fence ain't easy.

    But if you are an adjudicator or an attorney or a judge with DHS or DOJ, you have some power to mitigate these difficulties. You have some flexibility in your decision-making. You are in a position to blunt some of the worst excesses of the Trump Administration. You can help act as a counter-balance when the President encourages law enforcement to push the boundaries of the law, as he did with the Joe Arpaio pardon.

    Immigration and asylum laws are not nearly as harsh as the Trump Administration would have us believe. But the President is trying to use immigration law and procedure in a way that blocks people from coming here, or that deports those who are here. It is up to the people on the front line of that effort to protect the rule of law. Judges, adjudicators, and attorneys have the legal authority to grant cases, and in the face of the Trump Administration's attack on the rule of law, they should continue to do so. The lives of many immigrants--and our country's fealty to the rule of law--depend on it.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
    Tags: arpaio, trump Add / Edit Tags
  3. In a Time of Hate, My Refugee Clients Give Me Hope

    As an ordinary citizen, it is not easy to decide the best way to confront a Nazi march. Show up to peacefully protest? That might give additional attention to the other side. Protest violently? Not only could that elevate the Nazis, it might also de-legitimize the resistance to the Nazis (even those who peacefully resist). Ignore them? That might be viewed as condoning their views. Reasonable people can differ about what to do, at least as far as the peaceful responses are concerned.


    As a great American philosopher once said, "I hate Nazis."

    But when you are a public figure, especially an elected official, the decision about how to respond is clear: First, ensure safety and free speech. Second, denounce the evils of Nazism and make it plain that Nazis, Klan members, and anyone who might march side-by-side with such people are un-American, illegitimate, and unworthy of a seat at the table of public discourse.

    Fortunately, the vast majority of our country's elected leaders knew what to say in response to the Nazi march last weekend. But unfortunately, there was one important exception--our President, Donald J. Trump. To me, Mr. Trump's contemptible silence, followed by a reluctant "denunciation" of the Nazis, followed by a denunciation of the "denunciation" is an utter disgrace. It is a green light to Nazis. It is yet another attack on common decency and on our shared national values. It is complicity with Nazism. By the President of the United States. (As an aside, one of my lawyer-friends at the Justice Department told me--perhaps half jokingly--that she wanted to post a sign in her office that reads, "Nazis are bad," but she feared it might get her into trouble--that is where we are under Mr. Trump.)

    Frankly, I am not particularly worried about the Nazis themselves. They certainly can do damage--they murdered a young woman and injured many others. But they do not have the power or support to threaten our democracy. This does not mean we should take them for granted (few would have predicted Hitler's rise when he was sitting in prison after the Beerhall Putsch), but we should not be unduly fearful either.

    On the other hand, I am very worried about our President's behavior. His governing philosophy (perhaps we can call it, "trickle down histrionics") is poisoning our public debate, and it weakens us domestically and internationally. Thus far, his incompetence has served as a bulwark against his malevolence, but that can only go on for so long (see, e.g., North Korea). So there is much to be concerned about.

    Here, though, I want to talk about hope. Specifically, the hope that I feel from my clients: Asylum seekers, "illegals," and other immigrants. There are several reasons my clients give me hope.

    One reason is that they still believe in the American Dream. Despite all of the nastiness, mendacity, and bigotry coming from the White House, people still want to come to America. They are voting with their feet. Some endure seemingly endless waits, often times separated from their loved ones, in order to obtain legal status here. Others risk their lives to get here. They don't do this because (as Mr. Trump suggests) they want to harm us. They do it because they want to join us. They want to be part of America. My clients and others like them represent the American ideal far better than those, like our embattled President and his racist friends, who disparage them. When I see my country through my clients' eyes, it gives me hope.

    My clients' stories also give me hope. Most of my clients are asylum seekers. They have escaped repressive regimes or failing states. Where they come from, the government doesn't just tweet nasty comments about its opponents, it tortures and murders them. The terrorist groups operating in my clients' countries regularly harm and kill noncombatants, women, children, and even babies. My clients have stood against this depravity, and many of them continue to fight for democracy, justice, and human rights from our shores. My clients' perseverance in the face of evil gives me hope.

    Finally, I have hope because I see the courage of my clients, who refuse to be cowed by the hateful rhetoric of our Commander-in-Chief. Since the early days of his campaign, Mr. Trump has demonized foreigners and refugees, and after he was sworn in as President, these individuals were the first to come into his cross hairs. If he can defeat people like my clients, he can move on to new targets. But many refugees and asylum seekers have been subject to far worse treatment than Mr. Trump's bluster, and they are ready to stand firm against his bullying. Their fortitude encourages others to stand with them. And stand with them we will. The fact that vulnerable, traumatized people are on the front lines of this fight, and that they will not surrender, gives me hope.

    I have written before about the tangible benefits of our humanitarian immigration system. It demonstrates to the world that our principals--democracy, human rights, freedom, justice--are not empty platitudes. It shows that we support people who work with us and who advance the values we hold dear. When such people know that we have their backs, they will be more willing to work with us going forward. And of course, that system helps bring people to the United States whose talents and energy benefit our entire nation. Add to this list one more benefit that asylees and refugees bring to our nation in this dark time--hope.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  4. President Trump’s 101-Year Deportation Plan

    Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong had their five-year plans. Nikita Khrushchev had his seven-year plan. And now President Trump has a 101-year plan. That’s how long it will take to deport the country’s 11 million undocumented residents if current trends continue.


    Happy Birthday! Now, get the hell out of my country!


    The most recent statistics on case completions in Immigration Court show that the Trump Administration has issued an average of 8,996 removal (deportation) orders per month between February and June 2017 (and 11,000,000 divided by 8,996 cases/month = 1,222.8 months, or 101.9 years). That's up from 6,913 during the same period last year, but still well-below the peak period during the early days of the Obama Administration, when courts were issuing 13,500 removal orders each month.

    Of course, the Trump Administration has indicated that it wants to ramp up deportations, and to that end, the Executive Office for Immigration Review or EOIR--the office that oversees the nation's Immigration Courts--plans to hire more Immigration Judges ("IJs"). Indeed, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, the Attorney General (at least for now) announced that EOIR would hire 50 more judges this year and 75 next year.
    Assuming EOIR can find 125 new IJs, and also assuming that no currently-serving judges retire (a big assumption given that something like 50% of our country's IJs are eligible to retire), then EOIR will go from 250 IJs to 375. So instead of 101 years to deport the nation's 11 million undocumented residents, it will only take 68 years (assuming that no new people enter the U.S. illegally or overstay their visas, and assuming my math is correct--more big assumptions).

    But frankly, I'm doubtful that 68 years--or even 101 years--is realistic. It's partly that more people are entering the population of "illegals" all the time, and so even as the government chips away at the 11,000,000 figure, more people are joining that club, so to speak. Worse, from the federal government's point of view, there is not enough of a national consensus to deport so many people, and there is significant legal resistance to Mr. Trump's immigration agenda.

    In addition to all this, there is the Trump Administration's modus operandi, which is best characterized as malevolence tempered by incompetence. One statistic buried in the recent deportation numbers illustrates this point. In March 2017, judges issued 10,110 removal orders. A few months later, in June, judges issued 8,919 removal orders.

    This means that the number of deportation orders dropped by 1,191 or about 11.8%. How can this be? In a word: Incompetence (I suppose if I wanted to be more generous—which I don’t—I could say, Inexperience). The Trump Administration has no idea how to run the government and their failure in the immigration realm is but one example.

    There are at least a couple ways the Administration’s incompetence has manifested itself at EOIR.

    One is in the distribution of judges. It makes sense to send IJs where they are needed. But that’s not exactly what is happening. Maybe it’s just opening night jitters for the new leadership at EOIR. Maybe they’ll find their feet and get organized. But so far, it seems EOIR is sending judges to the border, where they are underutilized. While this may have the appearance of action (which may be good enough for this Administration), the effect—as revealed in the statistical data—is that fewer people are actually being deported.

    As I wrote previously, the new Acting Director of EOIR has essentially no management experience, and it’s still unclear whether he is receiving the support he needs, or whether his leadership team has the institutional memory to navigate the EOIR bureaucracy. Perhaps this is part of the reason for the inefficient use of judicial resources.

    Another reason may be that shifting judges around is not as easy as moving pieces on a chess board. The IJs have families, homes, and ties to their communities. Not to mention a union to protect them (or try to protect them) from management. And it doesn’t help that many Immigration Courts are located in places that you wouldn’t really want to live, if you had a choice. So getting judges to where you need them, and keeping them there for long enough to make a difference, is not so easy.

    A second way the Trump Administration has sabotaged itself is related to prosecutorial discretion or PD. In the pre-Trump era, DHS attorneys (the “prosecutors” in Immigration Court) had discretion to administratively close cases that were not a priority. This allowed DHS to focus on people who they wanted to deport: Criminals, human rights abusers, people perceived as a threat to national security. In other words, “Bad Hombres.” Now, PD is essentially gone. By the end of the Obama Administration, 2,400 cases per month were being closed through PD. Since President Trump came to office, the average is less than 100 PD cases per month. The result was predictable: DHS can’t prioritize cases and IJs are having a harder time managing their dockets. In essence, if everyone is a deportation priority, no one is a deportation priority.

    Perhaps the Trump Administration hopes to “fix” these problems by making it easier to deport people. The Administration has floated the idea of reducing due process protections for non-citizens. Specifically, they are considering expanding the use of expedited removal, which is a way to bypass Immigration Courts for certain aliens who have been in the U.S. for less than 90 days. But most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants have been here much longer than that, and so they would not be affected. Also, expansion of expedited removal would presumably trigger legal challenges, which may make it difficult to implement.

    Another “fix” is to prevent people from coming here in the first place. Build the wall. Deny visas to people overseas. Scare potential immigrants so they stay away. Illegally turn away asylum seekers at the border. Certainly, all this will reduce the number of people coming to America. But the cost will be high. Foreign tourists, students, and business people add many billions to our economy. Foreign scholars, scientists, artists, and other immigrants contribute to our country’s strength. Whether the U.S. is willing to forfeit the benefits of the global economy in order to restrict some people from coming or staying here unlawfully, I do not know. But the forces driving migration are powerful, and so I have real doubts that Mr. Trump’s efforts will have more than a marginal impact, especially over the long run. And even if he could stop the flow entirely, it still leaves 11 million people who are already here.

    There is an obvious alternative to Mr. Trump’s plan. Instead of wasting billions of dollars, harming our economy, and ripping millions of families apart, why not move towards a broad legalization for those who are here? Focus on deporting criminals and other “bad hombres,” and leave hard-working immigrants in peace. Sadly, this is not the path we are on. And so, sometime in 2118, perhaps our country will finally say adieu to its last undocumented resident.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  5. We're All in Atlanta Now

    Atlanta, Georgia is generally considered to have the most difficult Immigration Court in the country. Now, the Trump Administration has tapped attorneys from the Atlanta Office of the Chief Counsel (the "prosecutors" in Immigration Court) to take charge of the Immigration Courts and the "prosecutors" offices for the entire United States. A third Atlanta OCC attorney has been appointed to a key policy-making position at the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”).


    If you're feeling down about Georgia exports, here's something to love.

    Before we get to those attorneys, let's first talk about Atlanta. The average grant rate for asylum cases across the U.S. is just under 50%. The asylum grant rate at the Atlanta Immigration Court is less than 9%. Also, immigrant advocates have frequently complained about due process issues and the treatment of litigants in the Atlanta court.

    It's true that the Office of the Chief Counsel ("OCC") and the Immigration Court are independent of each other, but I think we can safely glean a few things about the Atlanta OCC from what we know of the Court.

    For one, since Immigration Judges will usually grant cases where the parties agree on relief, it seems likely that OCC attorneys in Atlanta rarely determine that a case should be approved for asylum. Of course, we do not know about the quality of the asylum cases in Atlanta—maybe they are unusually weak (a real possibility since sophisticated litigants will avoid Atlanta due to its low grant rate). But it would be strange indeed if almost no cases there meet the relatively low threshold required for asylum. The fact that the OCC is not stipulating to asylum on occasion indicates that they are taking a very hard line against such cases (this contrasts with many other jurisdictions, where the local OCCs regularly conclude that applicants qualify for asylum). The job of OCC attorneys is not merely to deport as many people as possible; they are supposed to do justice. This means agreeing to relief where it is appropriate. The low grant rate in Atlanta may indicate that OCC lawyers there are prioritizing “winning” over doing justice, and ideology above the law—all worrying signs as these attorneys move into national leadership positions.

    Second, whether the asylum cases in Atlanta are strong or weak, I suspect that the high denial rate there colors the view of the OCC attorneys. If those attorneys believe that over 90% of asylum seekers are unworthy of relief—either because they do not meet the requirements for asylum or because they are lying about their claims—it seems likely that these attorneys will develop a jaundiced view of such cases, and maybe of immigrants in general.

    Finally, there exists at least one instance of the Atlanta OCC taking an overly-aggressive position in a case involving alleged racial profiling by ICE (if OCC attorneys are the prosecutors, ICE officers are the police). In that case, an Immigration Judge in Atlanta ordered the OCC to produce an ICE agent accused of racial profiling. The OCC refused to produce the agent, and ultimately, the Judge ruled that the agents had engaged in “egregious” racial profiling and the OCC attorneys had committed “willful misconduct” by refusing to bring the agents to court. While the three OCC attorneys at issue here had left the Atlanta office by the time of this case, the OCC's position again points to an agency willing to put “winning” ahead of justice.

    With this background in mind, let's turn to the alumnus of the Atlanta OCC who will be taking charge of our immigration system.

    Tracy Short - ICE Principal Legal Advisor
    : Tracy Short is the new Principal Legal Advisor for ICE. In that capacity, he "oversees the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor, the largest legal program within the Department of Homeland Security, comprised of more than 1,100 attorneys and 300 support professionals throughout the United States." These are the attorneys who serve as "prosecutors" in Immigration Court, among their other tasks. According to his ICE biography, "From 2009 to 2015, Mr. Short served as the Deputy Chief Counsel in the ICE Atlanta Office of Chief Counsel." Mr. Short also served on the committee staff for Congressman Bob Goodlatte, the staunch anti-immigration representative from Virginia.

    While Mr. Short has impressive litigation experience, he has almost no management experience (as Deputy Chief Counsel, he might have supervised a few dozen people, at most). But now, under the Trump Administration, he is overseeing more than 1,400 lawyers and staff. Like his fellow veterans of the Atlanta OCC, I suspect he was chosen more for his ideological views than for his management background.

    James McHenry - Acting Director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review ("EOIR")
    : In a move characterized as "unusual" by retired Immigration Judge and former Chairman of the Board of Immigration Appeals Paul Wickham Schmidt, the Attorney General has appointed James McHenry as the new Acting Director of EOIR, the office that oversees the nation's immigration court system. Judge Schmidt notes that, "While Judge McHenry has stellar academic and professional credentials, and is an 'EOIR vet,' having served as a Judicial Law Clerk/Attorney Adviser in the Buffalo and Baltimore Immigration Courts, it is unusual in my experience for the acting head of EOIR to come from outside the ranks of current or former members of the Senior Executive Service, since it is a major executive job within the DOJ." In other words, while Judge McHenry has had significant legal experience, he has very little leadership experience, especially at EOIR.

    Indeed, Judge Schmidt's characterization of Judge McHenry as an "EOIR vet" seems overly generous. He served as a Judicial Law Clerk, which is basically a one or two year gig for new law school graduates working as an assistant to Immigration Judges (I myself was a JLC back in the prediluvian era) and he has a few months experience as an Administrative Law Judge for the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer, an office at EOIR that reviews certain employment cases involving immigrants.

    Like Mr. Short, Judge McHenry worked for the Atlanta OCC. He served as an Assistant Chief Counsel for ICE in that office from 2005 to 2010.
    Whether Judge McHenry's "acting" role as Director of EOIR will become permanent, we do not know. But I agree with Judge Schmidt that it is highly unusual for a person with such limited management experience to be picked to head our country's immigration court system, with hundreds of judges and support personnel to oversee.

    Gene Hamilton - Counsel to DHS Secretary
    : Gene Hamilton was appointed as counsel to DHS Secretary John Kelly. Along with Stephen Miller, he was apparently a key architect of the Trump Administration's travel ban against people from several majority-Muslim countries. He also served as a trial attorney at the Atlanta OCC in about 2014 and 2015, though I could not verify his length of service there. In addition, Mr. Hamilton served on the staff of Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions before he was appointed Attorney General. Mr. Sessions, of course, is well known for his regressive views on immigration, civil rights, and just about everything else.

    So there you have it. Three veterans of the Atlanta OCC who together will be exercising significant control over our country's immigration system. Given their backgrounds and experience (or lack thereof), it's difficult to be optimistic about how that system will fare under their watch.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
    Tags: asylum, atlanta, trump Add / Edit Tags
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