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Transcript: Mayor Bill de Blasio Signs into Law Bills to Dramatically Reduce New York City's Cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Deportations

November 14, 2014

Mayor Bill de Blasio: All right, good morning everyone. It is a sunny day, little bit on the cool side, but a sunny day. This is not quite like Puerto Rico, where we just were. 

It's a very good day for New York City, because we're signing legislation that will have a really meaningful effect on the lives of immigrants. I hasten to say at the beginning – New York City, a city that is great because it has been a city of immigrants, not just for decades, for hundreds of years – this is who we are. Look around you. Each and every one of us understands and appreciates where we come from. So many of our fellow New Yorkers are immigrants – just now even in this generation, a city still profoundly made up of immigrants, and all the good that comes with that – all the energy, all the drive, all the hope, all the creativity, all the entrepreneurship. 

So, today we take a step to actually align our city to who we are, to get our laws to align to our values, to our nature as New Yorkers, to have our laws respect our people in the way they haven't before.

There's a lot of people to thank. I want to first thank someone who couldn't be with us, but has been an extraordinary voice on behalf of the many, many immigrants that he serves – Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, the diocese of Brooklyn, who's been a really great friend and ally in this effort. And I want to thank everyone at the Diocese of Brooklyn. And I want to thank Father Walter Lawson, and Our Lady of Sorrows for hosting us – a church that has been a place of welcome and support for immigrants, and a place that all people of all backgrounds – regardless of documentation status – knew they could come to find love and embrace and support, and really playing out the vision of the church, that it's here to serve all. Well, we in the city government are here to serve all as well. And a lot of things we've been doing lately – trying to break down the barriers that exist, in the way that historically, some folks have been treated – who are just as much our fellow New Yorkers, even if they don't happen to have documentation – and a lot of people have been caught up in a lot of challenges. We're going to talk about what the ICE detainers have meant for so many families, and try and put it in very human terms. 

But getting back to the core of this, our goal is to treat everyone like they matter, everyone like they're our fellow New Yorkers. That happens every day here in this church, and we admire it and appreciate it. This church serves one of the largest immigrant communities in the entire city, provides a lot of social service help, helps connect people to employment – does so many of the things that help make people's lives better. 

I want to thank the leaders of my administration who have been a key part of the process that's brought us to this – to this day, and will be obviously very involved in the implementation of this new law – Nisha Agarwal, our commissioner for the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs; Zach Carter, my corporation counsel; Carlos Gomez, chief of patrol at the NYPD; Joe Ponte, our commissioner of corrections; Ana Bermudez, our commissioner of probation. 

And I want to thank all the elected officials who have joined us, and give a special thank you to the co-sponsor of this bill, Council Member Danny Dromm. You'll be hearing from some of the other electeds in just a moment. 

I want to thank all the advocates who worked so hard for this day. I've had the honor of meeting a lot of you. I know how long you worked, how hard you worked to get here. It is in large measure because you heard the voices of so many people, and turned that into action that we stand with you today, so thank you to the advocates, the community leaders, and most especially the families who have dealt with so many challenges because the law wasn't right. We thank them for their strength – we thank them for all they do for New York City. 

I want to begin by telling you about Carlos Rodriguez. Carlos, raise your hand. There you are – knew you were around here. Carlos – native to the Dominican Republic but a long-time New York City resident, a devoted husband, proud father – but in February of last year, he was arrested for trespassing in a building near his home. Now, he was just visiting a friend, but he got arrested. The charges were therefore dropped. He hadn't done anything wrong, the charges were dropped – you'd like to say that's the end of the story, but it wasn't. He wasn't released. He was being held, but he wasn't released, because the city, at that time, honored ICE's detainer request and held him. There was no warrant for Carlos, he had no criminal record, he had done nothing wrong, but he was being held. And at this point, he was in the Tombs in Manhattan. He was moved from there to the ICE detention center in New Jersey.

You’d like to say, well this was only a matter of days, wasn’t it? No, he was held for eight months. Eight months – lost his job as a chef, which provided for his family, barely got to see his family members, barely got to see his two-year-old daughter. So, his life was torn apart because of an unjust policy. Thanks to the good work of the people at the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, Carlos was finally released, but he’s still fighting deportation. He’s our fellow New Yorker, hard-working family man, fighting just to be able to stay here and continue to build his life and his family’s lives.

That’s why these bills are so important, because they protect people against these abuses. The new laws prevent ICE from maintaining an office at Rikers Island and limit when the correction department and the NYPD may honor ICE detainers. Again, the detainers are voluntary requests to hold someone who had otherwise been released by local authorities, and the notion is that allows ICE to come and pick up the person thereafter.

Under these new laws, the city will only honor the detainer request, only if they are accompanied by a judicial warrant, and the person in question is convicted of a violent or serious crime or matches the terrorist database. What this – these bills do is they protect the rights of undocumented immigrants, of visa holders, and legal permanent residents alike – all of whom have suffered under the previous approach – and ultimately prevent families from being torn apart.

I also believe. fundamentally, these bills will protect public safety, because we believe that the best way to keep us safe is to build trust and communication between our police force and the people they serve. And let’s face it, many, many of our fellow New Yorkers will not be comfortable engaging with the police if they fear deportation. Once they know that they will be protected, it will make it much easier to build the trust and the relationship and the communication we need between all New Yorkers, of all backgrounds, and law enforcement. When people understand, in all cases, police are here to protect and will not be part of deporting, it will encourage people to come forward, to share information with the police, to give them leads that they need so they can stop crime.

Finally, before a couple of words in Spanish and I turn to my colleagues, it’s an important day with some of the news we’re hearing nationally. Now, we need change in this country. There’s been too many years while we’ve been waiting for comprehensive immigration reform. Too many people in Washington have talked about it and not shown any willingness to act on it. We are hoping, from the news we’re hearing today, that there’s finally going to be executive action and that is desperately necessary. There’s times when the Congress fails us and the president must act, and we’re hopeful that we are going to see that action immediately. And then we look forward to the day for the really bigger action we need, which is legislation – comprehensive immigration reform. Just some Spanish ­ –

Hoy estoy firmando una legislación que exigirá al Departamento de Policía y al Departamento de Corrección cumplir con órdenes federales de detención del Control de Aduanas e Inmigración, solo en circunstancias limitadas. Estas legislaciónes son un paso importante en nuestro esfuerzo para hacer que nuestra ciudad sea más justa e inclusiva. Con estas legislaciones protegeremos los derechos de los inmigrantes de nuestra ciudad, al mísmo tiempo que promove – I can do this –promov – promoveremos. The accent is in the wrong place. I had coaches – promoveremos la seguridad pública.

[…]

[Commotion]

[Mayor de Blasio signs legislation]

Mayor: Okay, gather around. We’re going to do on topic first, so, all of my colleagues who have worked on this, gather around.

Okay, we’ve got all the experts in place. Experts, okay. Okay, okay.

All right, we’re going to do on topic questions first. Here we go.

Question: Two quick questions. The first one is a timeline question. When will the deportation reporting actually stop? When will ICE be kicked off Rikers and how much folks do they have now?

Mayor: Okay, I’m going to call up Zach Carter, Maya Wiley, Joe Ponte. Come on up.

[Commotion]

Would you say them all again, because there are several different points?

Question: When will you guys stop reporting folks to ICE? How many people are on Rikers right now from ICE? And when will they be kicked off Rikers?

Mayor: Nisha, come over too, of course. Who wants to start? You have to choose among you.

Zachary Carter: Joe, do we have numbers?

Commissioner Joe Ponte, Department of Correction: I don’t have them off the top of my head.

Zachary Carter: Okay, we can’t give you numbers off the top of our heads, but at some point, you – we should be able to provide that information. But we don’t have a current count. But we will – obviously, it takes 30 days before the bill goes into effect. And in the meantime, we are certainly going to avoid – as we have during the period while this bill has been in development and pending – avoid situations in which anyone who would be covered by the bill in 30 days would be subject to being delivered to ICE in the meantime.

Question: For Mr. Rodriguez, talk about your path to the country. Where do you come from, et cetera?  

[Commotion]

Carlos Rodriguez: Hi, my name is Carlos Rodriguez. I came here in 2006, with a J-1 Visa. I got married in the same year. During the time, I had my daughter. Right now, I’m fighting my deportation. My case is still open. But…

Question: What country are you from?

Carlos Rodriguez: The Dominican Republic.

Mayor: Did he answer [inaudible]?

Question: Since you’re currently fighting your immigration status, you currently don’t have documentation?

Angela Fernandez, Executive Director of NMCIR: I’m going to step in.

Mayor: Will you introduce –

Angela Fernandez: Yes, I’m sorry. I’m Angela Fernandez, the executive director of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights. And his case is on appeal right now. He’s married to a U. S citizen so he actually has a path to stay. Okay, so – and that’s one of the things that people misunderstand about immigration  is that – oh, they’re undocumented. But being  undocumented doesn’t mean  that you don’t have a legal right to stay because of the whole petitioning process that exists. Immigration laws are extremely complex. So, I’m just – I’m giving you a complex answer to a very simple question that, actually, we should really be reframing the question. Thank you.

Question: Let me ask Carlos also, what were you thinking during that eight-month period – would you ever get out? Did you ever think that you would be here today talking about this?

Carlos Rodriguez: To be honest with you, I was scared because, when you are in detention, you have no idea what is happening with your case. You don’t have an idea if they’re going to pick you today, if they’re going to deport you tonight. You don’t have no idea what’s happening. But I believe in God and I believe in my lawyers. They did a great job. And I’ll always be confident in myself, and I always knew that everything good was going to happen. I [inaudible] be here. And I always [inaudible] appreciate what the Mayor de Blasio did. And because – even though it doesn’t help me right now, but I know it helps somebody else. Out there is another family that can be destroyed, but thanks to this law, something can change now.

[Applause]

Mayor: In español también.

[Carlos Fernandez speaks in Spanish]

Question: You said two things, number one, that you were very unhappy with the pace of immigration reform in Washington, and you also said that you feel that New York City has to lead the way in showing Washington what to do. So my question to you is, exactly what do you want Washington to do, and what will New York City do if they don’t?  

Mayor: Well, what we all want – and I think I can say for the majority up here, is we want comprehensive immigration reform that recognizes and respects and normalizes the lives of almost 12 million people, who live amongst us in this country – half a million of whom are here in this city.

[Applause]

And really, what I think what we want is for this issue to finally be resolved. It’s been going on for decades. I think the American people are troubled whenever they see Washington unable to respond to the lives we live. Look, every place in this country – and I’ve been in many many parts of the country where the stereotype might be that there’s not much of an immigrant population, but there in fact is. All over the Midwest, the west, the south – there’s huge immigrant populations. And this is a national issue that, instead of being dealt with openly and respectfully and intelligently, it’s been swept under the rug, stigmatized, run away from, ignored – you can go down the whole list. It’s interesting that a country that is so great and provides so much leadership in the world, has been unfortunately, living out what is effectively a fallacy. We’re acting like there is not a problem when there is one, in terms of our national policies. So I think we all want it done the right way, which is, as Speaker Mark-Viverito said, with comprehensive legislation. But the Republicans in Congress said they’re unwilling, time and time again, to go there. So, again, we don’t know exactly what the president will do. But I for one hope he will act quickly and decisively, because people need that support. They deserve it.

Question: [Inaudible] if you don’t get the kind of legislation [inaudible]

Mayor: I think, look – I would answer in two ways. One, what can we do for people, and two, what can we do to change the national debate and put pressure on Washington. And I think actually, the two ways come together. This legislation is a way of helping actual people affected by an unjust policy – actual families – families that any American, when they hear the stories, would feel immediate sympathy and want to see justice done for these families. Second, what we’re trying to do, for example, with the municipal ID card – to show respect and embrace of all of our fellow New Yorkers and let them lead good and decent and normal lives – things like the ability to get a lease or a bank account. Those are going to have practical and important impacts on people’s everyday lives. So if you said, well we’re kind of an island here – providing public service [laughter] – we’re kind of an island here, we just have to make our own policies as best we can. Those are the kind of policies we would put into place and we’re doing it. But there are a host of things that would effectively, immediately help people. But I also think that’s the answer to how you change the national discussion, because you look at cities around the country – and some states even – they're already acting in the absence of federal leadership. And I think what happens – I think our nation's history speaks to this – is when one city acts, then another city acts, then the state acts, then another state acts – slowly but surely, it becomes national policy – it becomes irresistible. And this is what you're going to see. I – unfortunately, if we once again see the Congress unwilling, more and more localities will lead the way until one day that becomes the norm, and that becomes the tipping point.
Dave.

Question: What would you tell Republicans who would look at this legislation that you all did today, and think that [inaudible] dangerous [inaudible]?

Mayor: I would tell them that all of the folks involved here – who, as you see, is a lot of folks who are law enforcement professionals standing here, who have long careers in law enforcement, and were deeply involved in the creation of this law – all believe that we have struck the right balance, where we are going to respect the rights of people who had done nothing wrong, or only the most minimal – made the most minimal mistake – who had families who had to be supported, who were acting as our fellow New Yorkers. We're going to respect them. We're going to encourage them, in fact, to communicate with police, and with law enforcement, to work together for the betterment of the community, and never hold back for fear that it would send them on the pathway to deportation. And, we're going to have what we have in this legislation – a very long list of offenses – violent crimes, drug trafficking, obviously terrorism – where we would make a clear exception, and would immediately honor an ICE detainer. And that that balance has been struck in this legislation. So, I would say for those who care about human decency and families, they should like this legislation. For those who care about public safety, this legislation strikes the right balance – and in fact, every time someone will come forward to a police officer and – you know, I'll let the chief speak to this, and then I think the speaker wants to jump in too – every time someone comes forward to a police officer and says, I know who did that robbery down the street, I know someone who's got an illegal gun – who wouldn't have previously, because they felt fear for their own status – every time we get that information, we're going to stop crime. Chief, let me ask you to step up just for a second and then…

Chief of Patrol Carlos Gomez: Well, it certainly is a step in the right direction, and certainly provides the balance the mayor just mentioned. This will surely help us work closer with our communities. No longer will undocumented immigrants have – who have not been convicted of any crime, merely arrested for a misdemeanor or a lesser offense – no longer will they have to worry about being detained, and having a civil immigration process ahead of them, something that could disrupt their work life, as was mentioned earlier, certainly their family life. We will only be acting on these orders if an arrest warrant accompanies the warrant, and that warrant must be signed by a federal judge in a district court, or federal magistrate. And in addition, that person must be in a watchlist – a terrorism watchlist – or must have been convicted, not merely arrested, convicted within the last five years of a serious or violent crime, and those crimes are listed in this bill. So, certainly, this is definitely a step in the right direction, and will ensure what happened to Carlos, and the gentleman's father who spoke earlier, does not happen again. 

Mayor: Thank you very much. Let's get the speaker up.

[Applause]

All right? You got it? Fight with it. There you go.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito: I just want to – you know, I just want to challenge even the premise of the question, because I think that is what's wrong here, right, there is this assumption that every single person who is here in undocumented status is somehow dangerous to society. And let's be clear – if you are here in this United States, in an undocumented status, it is civil offense – it's not a criminal offense. And if you take that equation out, then what you're doing in this case is just treating this individual as anybody else would be treated in the criminal justice system. And that needs to be understood. There is this fear-mongering that goes on in this country because of, unfortunately, the realities we live, when race in this country – you know, that puts a different reality to what is here. And that's very important to note. It's not – the vast majority of the people who are here are hard workers – like Carlos, like Cesar's father – who are contributing positively to our community, contributing positively to the city of New York. And now, because of this broken system, they get ensnared, they get ripped apart. A lot of times these families have children who are American system, who are entitled to the right – and everyone is entitled to the right. So, that needs to be clear. I think I would just challenge the way – the premise of the question, and that underlying fallacy. 

[Applause]

Mayor: All right. On topic. Yes.

Question: I was wondering, now that [inaudible] signed this law [inaudible]?

Mayor: Yeah, I have met with some of the advocates promoting that idea, and I think, you know, there are people who are very honestly and nobly motivated to make sure people's voices are heard. That being said, the legislation I've seen so far, I think, has a number of challenges and issues that have to be addressed, so I was not comfortable with the version of the legislation that I saw, but I'm certainly willing to continue the conversation.
She asked you, too.

Speaker Mark-Viverito: Oh. [Laughs] I've been supportive of the legislation in the past, and obviously I know that it's being introduced, and continue to be supportive. So, we will get there at some point, in terms of taking it up further in the Council.

Mayor: On topic. On topic, going once. Oh, sorry.

Question: The speaker had mentioned that [inaudible] arrest [inaudible] Do you have any idea of the numbers of [inaudible]?

Mayor: I'm going to bring up Nisha for that.

Commissioner Nisha Agarwal, Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs: So, under the past laws, ICE issued between three to four thousand detainers a year in New York City, and about 65 to 70 percent of those were actually honored. This law will dramatically reduce the number of detainers that are honored to very low numbers. 

Question: So, 100, 200? 

Commissioner Agarwal: Yeah, so thousands will be reduced with the judicial warrants. Philadelphia has a comparable policy, and there are virtually zero honoring of detainers, going to the point that these are not criminals that we're talking about, they're people who are getting ensnared in a system that's sort of trapping hardworking people. And then even if ICE were able to get judicial warrants for all of these contexts, we think it's about 5 to 10 percent of detainers would end up being honored.

Question: Under this new law, if someone is arrested for a felony, will they have to go through the justice system [inaudible]?

Mayor: I'm going to name Nisha Agarwal mayor for the next question. You're now mayor. Go ahead. 

Enjoy it.

[Laughs]

Commissioner Agarwal: [Laughs] I am. Absolutely, but this doesn't change anything about the criminal justice system. People will go through the process as normal, as the speaker mentioned. This makes – it doesn't actually change the criminal justice system, it only ensures that there isn't that sort of double penalty of the immigration enforcement system inflicted on people who have not committed any serious crime.

Mayor: On topic. Last call for on topic, going once. Going twice. Off topic. Off topic. Wait – media question, yes? Media, go ahead.

Question: I am going to a different [inaudible]?

Mayor: All right, then I'm going to ask the speaker to help me with the Spanish. Go ahead.

[Reporter asks question in Spanish]

Council Member Julissa Ferreras: The question was – we've had some issues here in the district with some two dollar dancers, and some of the illicit activities that's happening along the Roosevelt Avenue Corridor, and it's expanded throughout my district and other parts of New York City. So the question is what could we do –

[Council Member Ferreras speaks in Spanish]

Mayor: Why don't you do – just summarize for English-speaking press [inaudible].

Council Member Ferreras: So, you know, obviously this is an issue that's very important to the residents of this district, and New Yorkers –

Unknown: [inaudible]

[Commotion]

Council Member Ferreras: Okay. All right.

Mayor: [Laughs] Just try to tell them what's your message here.

Council Member Ferreras: So, obviously this something that I talk to this administration, and with the local precincts, and the different patrol boards, of the issues that we have in sex trafficking along the Roosevelt Avenue Corridor. This is something that has not occurred overnight. And the question was specific, if there's any type of gang activity, where gangs are going from – they used to deal drugs – to now doing prostitution, and we're working closely with the local precincts. Also, obviously this is now being expressed to the speaker and the mayor's office, so we will be following up. This is something that's important to the residents of Corona, important to the residents of Queens, and I know that my colleague Council Member Dromm and I are consistently working on this. This community has two precincts that represent the Roosevelt Avenue Corridor, so it's something that's very valid, and something that we're continuing to work on to improve in our community.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: Louder.

Question: There's a report today in the New York Post that a prosecutor has charged Data Services with wrongfully discounting services to Debi Rose in the '09 election, and also charged several people involved in her campaign with grand larceny. I [inaudible] anymore, but in the past I think you've worked with them [inaudible] I was just wondering if you could comment on this [inaudible]?

Mayor: I'm going to say two things. One, I haven't seen a formal statement from anyone in law enforcement on this, so I would reserve any detailed comment until I see some formal recognition of what you're indicating. But, on the question of the previous review of that issue – look, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, I think, did a very, very complete investigation a few years ago, and went out of his way to say that he didn't find anything that warranted prosecution. I think that's a pretty definitive voice. 

Question: There's two bills that involve the NYPD, one is the Right to Know, where you would have to tell people that they have a right to refuse a search, the other one is a chokehold bill. Would you veto them [inaudible]?

Mayor: [inaudible] I think one of the things that's important to recognize in the legislative process is that it is a process. And it's a dialogue. We have a very, very good partnership with the City Council. Any piece of legislation, we say from the beginning, we're going to talk it through and work it through, and a lot of times legislation changes in the course of that process. I have said as recently as yesterday, and I've said previously, that I think we have to be careful when it comes to the question of chokeholds. We have to be very careful because there are some exceptional situations where an officer could be in literally a one-on-one struggle, life and death, and I don't think it's appropriate to say that in that kind of circumstance, we would put a legal prohibition. I think the appropriate thing is what we have right now, and we've had for decades, which is a NYPD departmental policy that bans the use of chokeholds under any normal – except for – any normal circumstance, again, excepting the most extraordinary and exceptional circumstances, and that's going to be one of the key dynamics of the retraining of the entire police force – to go over that policy, to make very clear and more effective the training on what's appropriate and what's not. 

Question: The Right to Know, the right to search you [inaudible]?

Mayor: Again, there will be a legislative process. In the past, I have raised concerns about that legislation because I want to make sure that we don’t inadvertently undermine the ability of law enforcement to do its job. But there will be a legislative process, for sure. Dave?

Question: Mayor, my folks – I don’t care, but my folks are asking – in early December –

Mayor: Is there a voice in your head, Dave?

[Laughter]

Question: The duke and duchess of Cambridge are coming in

Mayor: Yes.

Question: –whether you’ll be meeting with them… or your thoughts about it.

Mayor: We – I believe they are going to be visiting New York City. I think that’s a great thing. I think, from everything I’ve seen, they seem like very good and charitable people. And it would be great to have them here and it would be wonderful to meet them. I don’t think we’ve solidified our plans, but it would certainly – I’d enjoy meeting and see how we can work together.
Josh.

Question: I happened to notice you were kind of lampooned on the cover of one of the papers yesterday, and maybe a little today. I’m wondering if, just generally if you feel like, the message that you want is getting out, or is it getting lost in some of the more critical coverage?

Mayor: You know, I try not to spend a lot of time on the kind of inside baseball dynamics. I think the people understand what we’re doing. I think that today is a great example. I think the people of this city – the ultimate city of immigrants anywhere on earth, appreciate when we protect innocent people and keep families together. We’re going to just keep doing the work. And I learned a long time ago that the people get their information from a lot of sources, that the everyday New Yorker has a lot of common sense about how to think about public life. And what they want is for us to produce for them. They want to see affordable housing. They want to see pre-k and afterschool. They want to see fairness for immigrants. They want to see safe streets. There’s a lot of things that my constituents want. And all they care about in the final analysis is do I provide that for them, and do my colleagues provide that for them. So that’s what it’s all about. I really think people are yearning for more of an investigation of whether we’re effective or not, whether we’re answering people’s needs. I’ve spoken about this in terms of some of the national dynamics as well. People are looking for actual product, actual results, actual response to the lives they’re living. So, that’s where we keep our focus at all times.
I’m sorry, yes?

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: Look, here is what I think is important to understand about – what’s that? Costa is here? I didn’t know Costa is here. Costa, welcome [laughter]. Welcome to Queens. This is a – and Costa, I’m sure can tell you a lot on this – but I would say, because there’s a new policy in terms of mandatory inclusionary zoning, because there’s a new expectation that developers will be asked to do more, because there’s strong leadership in the City Council – and I know Costa drove a very hard bargain at the table with the developer – all of these pieces are adding up to something different. I think, in the not so distant past, including as recently as last year, this development would’ve had a lot less affordable housing. And if you think about the traditional 80/20, and you think about what was achieved here at 27 percent, let me put this in human terms – the count I have, that’s 119 more units – 119 more families in this city who will have affordable housing who wouldn’t have had it otherwise. That’s a real difference-maker. That’s a real game changer. For that family – and I really want to put this into human terms – that gets back to the previous question as well – a family that is struggling to make it, and as we know in this city, often paying more than 50 percent of their income just on their apartment – a family that then can finally get an apartment that they can afford stabilizes their lives, stabilizes their futures. That’s all the difference in the world for them. And that’s going to be 119 families. So I think something very different is here. I commend the City Council. I commend Costa for his leadership. And I think we’re, altogether, upping the ante here and it’s going to make a real difference. Thanks, everyone.     

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