‘Major’ Criminals Trying to Enter U.S. Through Legal Entry Points Have 60-70 Percent Chance of Avoiding Arrest

By Edwin Mora | April 6, 2011 | 5:54 PM EDT

Illegal migrants wait in holding facilities to be returned to Mexico (Photo: Gerald L. Nino/CBP)

Washington (CNSNews.com) – Drug traffickers and other criminals seeking to enter the U.S. through a Customs and Border Protection-controlled port of entry (POE) to commit a “major violation” have approximately a 70 percent chance of not being apprehended, a U.S. House subcommittee hearing heard this week.

Yet at points along the southwest border in between the POEs, the CBP is able to catch criminals 70 percent of the time, the hearing was told.

Chairwoman of the Homeland Security subcommittee on border and maritime security, Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), told Tuesday’s hearing it was a matter of concern that the CBP “apprehends only 30 to 40 percent of major violators such as drug traffickers at the air ports of entry and less than 30 percent at the land POEs.”

She said the figures came from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) congressional budget justification for fiscal year 2010 (PDF 165.6 MB). The Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) is part of the DHS.

In his testimony, Mayor Richard Cortez of the City of McAllen in Texas noted the disparity between apprehension rates at the controlled crossing points, and elsewhere along the border.

“Between the ports, we catch the criminals 70 percent of the time. At the ports, we catch them less than 30 percent,” he said. “That is an imbalance Congress must help to correct.”

Cortez told CNSNews.com his figures came from the CBP.

Both Miller and Cortez referred to the Department of Justice assertion that 90 percent all illicit drugs smuggled into the U.S. come through land POEs.

CBP Assistant Commissioner Thomas Winkowski (Photo: CBP)

Asked by Miller about his manpower needs in order to improve security at POEs, CBP Assistant Commissioner Thomas Winkowski said he did not have figures, but was working on it.

Richard Stana, director of homeland security and justice issues at the Government Accountability Office, estimates that 6,000 additional inspectors and more than $5 billion for facilities are needed for effective security at POEs.

Miller criticized DHS for not including the apprehension rate of “major” criminals at the U.S. ports of entry in its latest budget justification.

“It does trouble me that CBP actually omitted this [apprehension at ports on entry] chart from the FY 2012 budget justification documents to Congress,” she said. “When it comes to national security we need to do better when it comes to border security. We need to do much better.”

According to the DHS’s 2010 budget justification document – the one Miller cited from for her figures – the CBP typically apprehends some 30-40 percent of  major violators coming through the POEs.

“A major violation involves serious criminal activity, including possession of narcotics, smuggling of prohibited products, human smuggling, weapons possession, fraudulent U.S. documents, and other offenses serious enough to result in arrest,” the document states.

Apprehension rate of air passenger criminals were only provided for FY 2007 and FY 2008. They showed a significant drop in the number of “major violators” that CBP apprehended at international airports – from 40.3 percent to 25 percent.

Therefore a criminal’s chance of entering the U.S. through an international airport was lower in FY 2007 than it was during the following fiscal year, when three out of four were not caught.

According to the same document, the arrest rate for “major” criminals seeking to enter the U.S. through a land POE dropped by almost six percent, from 34.5 percent in FY 2007 to 28.9 percent the following fiscal year.

Meanwhile, according to the DHS annual performance report for fiscal years 2010-2012, the department expects to see a continuing drop in apprehensions along the southwest border between the POEs, a factor it attributes in part to “unprecedented deployments of personnel, technology and infrastructure.”

The report says there has been a noticeable decrease in apprehensions in recent years, “indicating fewer people are attempting to cross the border.”

The number of apprehensions has dropped steadily, from 705,022 in FY 2008 to 540,851 in FY 2009, and to 447,731 in FY 2010. The planned target for  FY 2011 is 390,000 and for FY 2012 is 371,000.

As CNSNews.com previously reported, some experts have disputed the claim that a decrease in apprehensions indicates that fewer people are attempting to cross the border illegally.

DHS documents state that “[p]ort security is maintained at 20 field offices and 331 associated [POEs], of which 15 are pre-clearance stations outside the United States.”

“More than 61,000 CBP employees manage, control, and protect the Nation’s borders at and between the official ports of entry (POEs). CBP is responsible for protecting more than 3,987 miles of border with Canada, 1,993 miles of border with Mexico, and 2,627 miles of shoreline.”