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Most immigration proceedings are civil matters, including deportation proceedings, asylum cases, employment without authorization, and visa overstay. People who evade border enforcement (such as by crossing outside any official border checkpoint), who commit fraud to gain entry, or who commit identity theft to gain employment, may face criminal charges. People entering illegally were seldom charged with this crime until Operation Streamline in 2005. Conviction of this crime generally leads to a prison term, after which the person is deported if they are not eligible to remain in the country.

The guarantees under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, such as the right to counsel, and the right to a jury trial, have not been held to apply to civil immigration proceedings. As a result, people generally represent themselves in asylum and deportation cases unless they can afford an immigration lawyer or receive assistance from a legal charity. In contrast, the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment has been applied to immigration proceedings.[340] Because the right to confrontation in the Sixth Amendment does not apply, people can be ordered deported in absentia – without being present at the immigration proceeding.[341]

Removal proceedings are considered administrative proceedings under the authority of the United States Attorney General, acting through the Executive Office for Immigration Review, part of the Justice Department. Immigration judges are employees of the Justice Department, and thus part of the executive branch rather than the judicial branch of government. Appeals are heard within the EOIR by the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the Attorney General may intervene in individual cases, within the bounds of due process.[341]