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Are you eligible to naturalize?


Are you eligible to apply for citizenship? from Michael Boyle on Vimeo. 2 min.
Do you meet the minimum eligibility requirements for naturalization? Some of the requirements are easy to understand and measure, while others are more complicated and difficult to assess. This page of our site (and the next one, called “Should you apply?”) offer an introduction via written materials, podcasts or videos. If you hire us, an attorney will review your application, answer your questions, and help ensure that you meet the requirements to naturalize.

The basics

  • Are you 18, or older?
  • Have you been a permanent resident for five years? (Or three years, if you have been married to and living with your U.S. citizen spouse.)
  • Have you lived in the United States for at least half that time?
  • Can you get at least six answers right on the ten-question test about United States history and government that will be given during your interview?
  • Are you prepared to take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States?

Other requirements are more complex or harder to measure

  • Do you read, write and speak English? Most applicants will need to understand and answer questions in English and to write one or two sentences in English. However, there are some exceptions and limitations to assist older or disabled applicants.
  • Have you “broken the continuity” of your residence by extended travel outside the United States? (Travel six months or more can lead to denial of your application; travel of over a year can result in losing your green card.)
  • Do you have good moral character? This term encompasses many problems. Some are obvious and easy to accept (no murders!), others are much less obvious and may or may not lead to denial of your application depending on when they occur.

While the materials on our site can be of value in educating yourself about the requirements for citizenship, an attorney can be a valuable guide in ensuring that you meet all the requirements to naturalize.

Comments

Comment from frank agyeman
Time: June 17, 2008, 1:16 pm

can i file for my citizenship whilst my application to remove condition is still pending?

Comment from Attorney Michael Boyle
Time: June 18, 2008, 9:35 am

Yes. You can apply even though your I-751 has not yet been decided. However, your citizenship cannot be approved prior to your I-751 being decided. Some USCIS offices will interview you for both applications on the same day, others hold your citizenship application in abeyance until after the I-751 is done.

Comment from Yong Jo
Time: July 7, 2008, 1:04 pm

im thinking about applying for citizenship, but the information on my green card says female when i am a male, where can i find information on how to fix this>?

Comment from Attorney Michael Boyle
Time: July 7, 2008, 2:55 pm

You obtain a corrected green card using Form I-90, which you can download from the USCIS web site, http://www.uscis.gov. If you can show that USCIS made the error even though you gave them the correct information, you do not have to pay the filing fee. (For example, show that your forms said you were male, but USCIS ignored what you told them.) Otherwise the filing fee is $370.
If citizenship is your main concern, I would suggest applying even with the error on the green card. In my experience they will process the application despite the error.

Comment from Rosa
Time: July 7, 2008, 7:24 pm

hello i like to know if is some help for the person who do not speak english but she has almost six years of the resident card, what can we do

Comment from cywp1Michael
Time: July 17, 2008, 10:23 am

The best solution would be to work on your English. There is an exemption from the English requirement for an applicant who cannot learn because of a disability, but most green card holders need to have basic English to become citizen.

Comment from Delilah Mortell
Time: May 25, 2011, 5:53 pm

I have my resident card since 6/03/06. Can I apply now or do I have to wait until 6/03/11? How long does it take after I mail my application to get an interview?

Comment from Michael Boyle
Time: May 25, 2011, 7:02 pm

You can apply now. You can apply 90 days in advance of the fifth anniversary of your green card being approved. So you have been eligible to apply since March 5, 2011. Good luck!

Comment from Stephanie
Time: January 12, 2012, 4:50 pm

My boyfriend wants to apply for his citizenship after being a legal resident for almost 24 years now. I think he is going to be accepted. he works full time in social work and helps US citizens every day through his job, he has never been in trouble with the law, he is very proficient in English (both reading and writing), and has all of her paperwork collected. he is so discouraged because his brother who is also a Permanent Resident has had to undergo some more questioning and has even had to submit a DNA test. His brother has had trouble with the law in the past though. I think my boyfriend is over exaggerating but he thinks it’s all doom and gloom. If everything looks good on paper for him, what are the chances that they could deny him? Is it really that tricky or is he overreacting?

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Citizenship application information

Our site offers a lot of information about citizenship: who is eligible, who should and should not apply, updates on immigration law, etc.

Most people think that getting citizenship is almost automatic and apply without a lawyer. If your immigration history and life are spotless and you are well-organized and speak, read and write English well, you may well apply on your own without any problem. However, what seems like a small problem – or no problem at all – to you may result in being denied and placed in removal proceedings. We try to alert you to some of these problems. We also provide a general orientation to the process.

Unfortunately, we cannot alert you to whether your local USCIS office or the officer who will interview you office go out of their way to find problems in your case. Only an experienced local attorney can do that. That is why we recommend you hire one.

If you are in Connecticut, feel free to call us at 203 239-2299 (Monday-Thursday 8:00-6:00, Eastern time) and set up an appointment at our Danbury or North Haven offices. We have been citizenship lawyers in Connecticut for more than twenty years, helped hundreds of people get their citizenship, and helped dozens of others avoid or resolve problems with USCIS.

For now, enjoy browsing the site and learning about applying for citizenship. Feel free to send us an email with your suggestions on improving the site.

Our $1,500 package: citizenship start-to-finish with an attorney at the Hartford USCIS office

We offer a very competitive package to guide you through the citizenship process. First, one of our attorneys will meet with you, prepare your application, and show you what you will need to study in order to pass the English and civics tests. Then we will submit your application. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we will meet with you to prepare your for your interview and take you to your interview at the Hartford USCIS Office.

This package price only applies for cases at the USCIS Hartford Office. You may not eligible for this package if you have been arrested, lied to immigration, failed to file and pay your taxes on time, or if you need to make a disability naturalization application. We have a lot of experience with these applications, but when the case is complex, we have to charge a higher price.

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Gather your data

The citizenship application is a twenty-one-page form that asks for a lot of data. You need to gather that data before you fill out Form N-400. Check off every point before you fill out the form or go to see an attorney!

The basics

  • your name, and any other names you have used in the past (like maiden names or second middle or last names that you don’t usually use in the U.S.
  • your date of birth, height, weight , race, eye and hair color
  • a list of all the trips you have taken outside the U.S. since becoming a permanent resident. Note the start an end dates of each trip, and all countries that you traveled to. (Your passports are probably the best place to get this information.)
  • your green card number, and the date and place you were granted permanent residence (these are all on your green card)
  • your current address and all your addresses during the last five years. Note the dates you lived at each address. If you are applying based on marriage to a US citizen, we need to know about any periods that the two of you have lived apart since you married.
  • all your jobs during the last five years. Note your job title, each company’s name and addrress, and when you worked there
  • if you are are now married, your date of marriage, and your current spouse’s full name, date of birth, social security number, and address.
  • We need to know if your spouse is a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or has no legal status here. If your spouse has a green card, note the A number. If he or she naturalized, get a copy of the certificate.
  • if you or your current spouse married before, you need to note the name and immigration status (U.S. citizen, permanent resident, etc.) of each prior spouse, the marriage and termination dates of each marriages, and how the marriage ended (e.g., divorce or the prior spouse’s death).
  • if you have children, each child’s name, current address, and date and country of birth. If your child has a green card, note the child’s green card number.

More complex stuff: take special care

These are areas that can trip up an application, leading to a denial or being put in removal proceedings in some cases. If any apply to you, we strongly recommend that you not apply for naturalization until after you obtain detailed advice from an attorney in your area.

  • have you filed and paid your taxes on time for the last five years?
  • how did you get your green card? Did circumstances change shortly after your got it? (Separation or divorce in a marriage case; changing jobs in a work case, left the ministry in a religious worker case, etc.) Be ready to explain and document the good reasons for any changes.
  • were there in any problems with how you got your green card? Were you married when you said you were unmarried? Did you use fake experience letters in a work case? Did you get buy papers to get a green card in the agriculture program in the late 1980s?
  • Have you been arrested or committed a crime, including drunken driving, since coming to the US? You will need to obtain a certified copy of the disposition of the charges from the court, even if you did not commit a crime or admit guilt, and even if the charges against you were nolled or dismissed.
  • It is essential that you get the certified disposition record before speaking to us or filing your application. It is easy to misunderstand exactly how a case was resolved. In terms of what happened to you when you went to court, there is little difference between a dismissal, a dismissal with suspended sentence or a dismissal after admitting guilt and completing a program. However, for immigration law purposes the difference can be huge, resulting in some cases in an applicant being detained without bond and deported.
  • have you been obliged to pay child support in the last five years? Have you ever fallen behind?

Does this seem like a lot of information? It is. Trust us when we tell you that you are far better off gathering it in advance so that your application will be complete and correct. Cutting corners and submitting an incomplete application and hoping to “fill in the gaps” later on can lead to problems: minor ones, like rejection of your filing or irritating your examiner; or major ones; like having your application denied and being put in removal proceedings.

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Contact us

Feel free to send us suggestions or questions about this site. To set up a consultation and pay by credit card, please call 203 239-2299. We’re open Monday-Thursday 8:00 am-6:00 pm, Eastern time.

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Biographies of our citizenship attorneys

Attorney Michael Boyle has practiced immigration law since 1993. The Martindale-Hubbell attorney rating service* has assigned him its highest rating, AV. He is listed in The Best Lawyers in America,* the New England, Connecticut and Corporate Counsel editions of SuperLawyers, and is a James Cooper Fellow of the Connecticut Bar Association. He was a member of the Board of Governors of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the Chapter Chair of the Association’s Connecticut chapter from 2003-2005. He has provided training presentations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association and its Connecticut chapter, the Connecticut Bar Association, the Federal Bar Association, the Connecticut public defender’s office and other groups.

Attorney Boyle is a graduate of Yale (BA, 1979), the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (MA, 1980), and the University of Connecticut (JD, 1993). He speaks Portuguese and Spanish. He was the Chief Negotiator for Locals 34 and 35, Federation of University Employees, UNITE HERE, at Yale from 1991 to 2005.

Attorney Isabelle Barreira handles a wide range of family, citizenship, domestic violence and employment green card cases. She speaks Portuguese, Spanish and French. Attorney Barreira is a graduate of the Quinnipiac University School of Law and Western Connecticut State University.

*Martindale-Hubbell, Best Lawyers in America and SuperLawyers organize and publish attorney peer review ratings. Ratings reflect the opinions of attorneys and judges.

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Good character 2: gray areas; the interview

Many Immigration examiners apply a tough standard when evaluating “gray area” moral character problems. Similarly, many examiners treat errors, small evasions or misunderstandings that arise during the interview as evidence of bad moral character. Be aware that your examiner – however polite he or she may be – may take a very critical view of your past errors and your answers during the interview. It is also common for naturalization examiners to review how you got your green card and to critically examine changed circumstances like a divorce shortly after gaining a green card through marriage, or a job change shortly after gaining a green card through work.

Lesser crimes, drinking, taxes, child support

Minor crimes and many other problems may be considered against you, especially repeat offenses or a negative trend that carries over into the three- or five-year good moral character period. Examples include:

  • a drinking problem, especially if you have more than one alcohol-related arrest (DUI, disorderly conduct, etc.), unless there is clear evidence of rehabilitation
  • willing failure to register for the draft
  • failure to pay child support or alimony
  • failure to file tax returns or pay taxes timely

Many examiners will give you the benefit of the doubt if you took action to correct tax, child support or alimony problems shortly after they arose. Gather evidence like payment agreements, receipts, or cancelled checks to show the efforts you made.

Review of how you got your green card

Expect close scrutiny of how you got your green card, even if you got it twenty years ago. Some common problems: Did you separate or divorce shortly after getting your final green card through marriage?; Were you sponsored by an employer but never started work in the job or changed jobs very quickly after getting your green card?; Did you get your green card in the 1987-88 amnesty programs using false evidence?; Did you get your green card as an unmarried child but had married before your application was finally approved?. Be prepared to prove that there were no problems with your original application, even if you got your green card many years ago. Do not assume that your having been approved long ago will cover you today.

Problems at the interview

During your interview be careful to not lie, be evasive or repeat or reinforce errors in your application. Some USCIS examiners treat errors or misunderstandings (like forgetting or downplaying a past arrest or tax problem) as false testimony and deny the application, even if the errors or misunderstandings themselves would not be a basis for denying your application.

Be prepared, be honest

You can avoid serious problems by carefully recalling your personal, immigration and criminal history, reviewing it with your attorney prior to applying, and being honest and direct with the examiner during your interview. Avoid being defensive or blaming others for past problems. If you have any doubts about your immigration history, or whether you might have been arrested or filed or paid taxes late, request those records and consult an attorney before you start applying for citizenship.

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Good character 1: bars, arrests, crimes

You must demonstrate good moral character for the full three- or five-year residence period; Immigration may also consider earlier conduct, particularly if it is related to problems in the three- or five-year period. Although the legal definition of good moral character for naturalization purposes is character consistent with “the standards of average citizens” in your community, a surprising number of applicants are rejected for failure to meet the good moral character requirement for citizenship.

Why? Some bars to establishing good moral character are complex, and others fall into “gray areas,” subject to varying interpretation. Many Immigration examiners apply a tougher standard than the basic definition would suggest or treat errors or misunderstandings that arise during the interview as evidence of bad moral character. Be aware that your examiner – however polite he or she may be – may take a very critical view of your past errors and your answers during the interview.

Automatic bars

Several problems automatically bar you from proving good moral character even if they occurred long before the three- or five-year good moral character period. Among the most common are:

  • conviction of an aggravated felony after November 1991 (The list of aggravated felonies is long, and – in spite of the name – includes many misdemeanors.)
  • falsely claiming to have been a US citizen after 1996

Others constitute an automatic bar if they occured in the three- or five-year good moral character period. Even after this time has passed and they no longer bar naturalization absolutely, they will likely have a negative impact on your application:

  • committing a crime involving moral turpitude (a broad category that includes minor theft offenses like shoplifting)
  • having been convicted of two crimes for which a suspended or actual sentence of five years or more was imposed
  • committing any drug offense (except for a single incident of possession of less than 30g of marijuana) or giving Immigration reason to believe you were involved in drug selling
  • having spent a total of 180 days in jail
  • involvement in prostitution
  • involvement in smuggling someone into the US
  • giving false testimony under oath

Many of these grounds can also subject you to being placed in removal (deportation) proceedings, even for old offenses. Many people are put into removal proceedings because they unwisely made citizenship applications that brought their past offenses to Immigration’s attention.

A note about arrests and crimes

Many people think of arrests as dramatic events where bad guys are rounded up, handcuffed, and thrown into a crowded cell at the police station. However, most arrests involve a police offer handing you a citiation that you have to answer in court (or in some cities and states by pleading no contest or guilty through the mail). Think very hard (or better still consult an immigration lawyer) before saying that you have never been arrested.

In addition, many people who are arrested participate in court programs that result in the charges being dropped and a judge telling them that they can answer no when asked if they have been arrested. Immigration does not agree that these arrests “no longer exist.” Immigration requires applicants to list the arrest and how the case was decided on Form N-400. Whether Immigration recognizes the court dismissal of the charges as a dismissal or as a conviction varies depending on state law. It may not seem fair, but some state court dismissals are considered convictions for immigration purposes. This is another reason that it makes sense to get an attorney’s advice before applying for citizenship.

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Residence and physical presence requirements

What you need in a nutshell

  • Three months residence in the USCIS district where you will apply for citizenship
  • Five years of continuous residence in the US (only three years if you have been married to and living with your US citizen spouse)
  • You must be physically present in the US for half of the three- or five-year period

What residence means

Residence means your principal dwelling place, in other words, where you really live. If you have a second residence outside the country, CIS must consider it to be secondary to your United States residence.

Three months local residence

You have to have lived in the state or CIS district where you will be interviewed for three months prior to filing your naturalization application. If you have moved to a new USCIS district in the last ninety days, don’t apply until you have ninety days at your new address.

Five years (or three) of continuous residence in the United States.

You must have resided in the US continuously for five years just prior to filing your N-400 application. The time period is reduced to three years if you have been married to and living with your United States citizen spouse for the three years or if you gained residence based on having been battered by your United States citizen spouse (also called a VAWA application.)

The rules on disruption of residence can be tricky. CIS will likely consider your residence to be disrupted if you travel outside of the US for more than 180 days. If at all possible, avoid traveling outside the US for more than 180 days at a time. If you did travel for more than 180 days, preserve evidence that you did not intend to disrupt your residence when you took the trip. Try to show that you kept your job, house or apartment, bank accounts, car, etc. here in the US. If your trip was unexpectedly prolonged by a relative’s sudden illness, get medical records to show this.

CIS will consider your residence to be disrupted if you travel for a year or more, even if you requested a travel permit in advance. Limited exceptions exist for government personnel, missionaries and employees of US companies stationed overseas who file Form N-470 to preserve their residence for citizenship purposes. Again, if gaining citizenship is important to you, plan in advance and divide your travel into shorter trips of under 180 days.

Physical presence: half of the required three- or five-year period prior to filing

You must have been physically present in the United States for at least half of the five- or three-year pre-filing period: To see if you meet this requirement, just count the days that you spent in and out of the United States in the three- or five-year period. For the purposes of measuring residence and physical presence, the United States includes Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands.

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Passing the English and civics tests

Most applicants will need to understand and answer questions in English and to read and write a short sentence in English. They also need to correctly answer six questions on a ten-question test about US civics and history.

Who does NOT have to read and write English

If you are over fifty-five years old and have had a green card for at least fifteen years or are over fifty and have had a green card for at least twenty years, you can be interviewed and answer the civics and history questions in your own language and you do not have to demonstrate your ability to read and write. In addition, applicants whose disability prevents them from being able to show their English proficiency can be exempted from either part of the testing or given a modified procedure based on their disability. Disability waivers are very hard to obtain and require an expert medical opinion. See our disability page for more information.

Citizenship civics and history test

Everyone except for a limited number of disabled applicants has to pass the civics and history test. As noted above, older applicants with long residence may take this exam in their own language.

You will be asked ten questions randomly selected from a standard list. You to answer at least six questions correctly to pass. Take some time to study the questions on the list you will be tested on. Fortunately, whether in English or in translation, diligent study over of few weeks should be enough for you to take the exam with confidence.

You can find the questions here. Applicants over sixty-five have their questions selected from a twenty-five question list. For the new test, the twenty-five questions are marked with asterisks (the star * sign) on the question list.

The reading and writing exercises

If you completed high school in the US or another English-speaking country, you probably have little to worry about in the reading and writing portions of the exam.

However, even if English is not your first language, and you are uncomfortable writing in English, the new testing system gives you a good chance of passing the test. The sentences that you will be asked to read and write write use words that relate to US history and civics, and USCIS has given you complete vocabulary lists to study from. If you take the time to recognize how these words sound and to learn how they are spelled, you should be able to pass the reading and writing exercises.

Vocabulary for the new writing test

PEOPLE

• Adams
• Lincoln
• Washington

CIVICS

• American Indians
• capital
• citizens
• Civil War
• Congress
• Father of Our Country
• flag
• free
• freedom of speech
• President
• right
• Senators
• state/states
• White House

PLACES

• Alaska
• California
• Canada
• Delaware
• Mexico
• New York City
• Washington
• Washington, D.C.
• United States

MONTHS

• February
• May
• June
• July
• September
• October
• November

HOLIDAYS

• Presidents’ Day
• Memorial Day
• Flag Day
• Independence Day
• Labor Day
• Columbus Day
• Thanksgiving

VERBS

• can
• come
• elect
• have/has
• is/was/be
• lives/lived
• meets
• pay
• vote
• want

OTHER WORDS (what USCIS calls function words)

• and
• during
• for
• here
• in
• of
• on
• the
• to
• we

OTHER WORDS (what USCIS calls content words)

• blue
• dollar bill
• fifty/50
• first
• largest
• most
• north
• one
• one hundred/100
• people
• red
• second
• south
• taxes
• white

Samples sentences to read or write

These samples are similar in difficulty to those used by USCIS

Presidents’ Day is in February.
Congress meets in Washington, D.C.
Alaska is the largest state.
George Washington is the Father of Our Country.
Independence Day is in July.
The White House is in Washington, D.C.

Second chance

If you do not meet the English or civics requirements on your first try, you get one additional chance at no charge. Your second interview should take place within two to three months.

Comments

Comment from HADI SAQI
Time: January 2, 2009, 1:05 pm

You have given a comprehensive write-up. I will pass the test as highlighted by you. I am 74 years old. My sons and daughters they work and take care of me and my wife. I have not worked in the United States in the last 14 years of my stay. As I have not earned anything in USA I have not paid Income Tax. My son and daughter are Tax Payers. My question to you:

WHETHER I SHOULD APPLY FOR CITIZENSHIP OR IT WILL BE DENIED BY USCIS?

Yours sincerely

HADI SAQI

Comment from cywp1Michael
Time: January 2, 2009, 5:00 pm

Being supported by your children should not be a problem in applying for citizenship. Even accepting public assistance (like SSI) should not be a problem as long as you have honestly reported that you are a permanent resident.

Good luck with your application.

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Should you apply for citizenship?


Should you apply? from Michael Boyle on Vimeo. 3 min.

The advantages of citizenship

The advantages of citizenship are significant, and obvious. You can vote. You can sponsor a broader range of relatives to immigrate to the US, and bring them here more quickly and easily than a permanent resident can. Your permanent resident children, under eighteen and in your custody, automatically acquire citizenship when you do. You enjoy more favorable estate tax treatment than permanent residents. You cannot be deported. You may be eligible for government benefits that permanent residents are not. You can travel or live abroad for as long as you want without having to worry about losing your right to live in the United States.

And the disadvantages…

Remember that when you make a naturalization application, you open your whole life to close scrutiny by the government. Tax problems, family problems, legal or criminal problems, and even immigration problems from the distant past are all of interest to the government. In the worst case, a citizenship application can lead to deportation. In our materials we try to point out some of the most common problems. Others can be unearthed if you review and complete your application with an attorney.

What if if I have a problem?

If you have any of these potential problems, we would strongly recommend that you hire an attorney.

  • If you got your green card through marriage, did you separate or divorce shortly after your green card was approved?
  • If you got your green card through work, did you change jobs shortly after your green card was approved, or never take the job for which you were sponsored?
  • Did you lie to get your green card or was there something wrong with the process? (For example, did you get your green card as an unmarried child although you were married? Did you get the card through marriage, but a divorce became final before the case was approved, etc.)
  • Did you not file your taxes or file late during the five years (three if you are married to and living with your U.S. citizen spouse) before filing your citizenship application?
  • Do you owe taxes to the IRS or your state?
  • Have you ever been arrested, even if the charges were dropped, even if it was for a small offense like shoplifting or creating a public disturbance?
  • Many of these problems can be overcome by careful planning and documentation, but you should know what can be fixed and how before your apply or go to your interview.

    What about your citizenship in your home country?

    Another concern is how becoming a citizen of the United States can effect your status in your country of nationality or birth. Does that country recognize dual nationality, or will you lose your status there? Our written materials provide some guidance, but you may want to speak to your “other” country’s consulate or consult a lawyer from that country.

    Finally, the application process is time-consuming, stressful, and not inexpensive. The questionnaire is long, and the real significance of the questions is not always obvious. If everything goes smoothly, you can expect to pay $680 in fees to the government, and to lose at least half a day of work when you go for your interview. If you have not anticipated what Immigration wants or if you encounter other problems, you will likely spend additional time, and perhaps money, responding to a request for evidence, returning for a second interview, or making an appeal or second application. (Or you may give up in frustration and have an abandonment or denial on your record.)

    Comments

    Comment from cywp1Michael
    Time: April 12, 2008, 9:52 am

    An article from the New York Times, Legal Immigrants, Until They Applied for Citizenshipshows how unexpected problems can arise from filing a citizenship application.

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