Documents produced by the Department of Homeland Security indicate that in fiscal 2010 the department is planning to catch only 26 percent of travelers committing major criminal violations while seeking to enter the United States through international airports.

DHS documents also indicate that the department believes it will fail to screen against law enforcement databases 15 percent of travelers entering the United States in 2010 through all official ports of entry.

In fiscal 2008, according to DHS, the department caught only 25 percent of those committing major violations while entering the U.S. on international flights. It also planned to catch only 25 percent in fiscal 2009, which ended on Sept. 30. For fiscal 2010, which began on Oct. 1, DHS set it sites slightly higher, planning to catch 26 percent of major violators entering the U.S. on international flights while letting 74 percent get away.

DHS each year calculates what it calls the air passenger apprehension rate for major violations. This apprehension rate is used as one measure of whether the department is achieving its goal to improve the targeting, screening, and apprehension of high-risk international cargo and travelers to prevent terrorist attacks, while providing processes to facilitate the flow of safe and legitimate trade and travel.

The major violations that DHS believes 74 percent of perpetrators will get away with when entering the U.S. by air in 2010, according to a 3,493-page document the department presented to Congress to justify its annual budget, involve 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.

DHS determines the percentage of major violators it catches entering the United States at international airports by subjecting a random sampling of passengers to intensified scrutiny designed to detect any offense they might be committing. The sample rate is used to estimate the expected number of major violations in the general population, DHS explained in its budget justification. The major violations found during the regular primary inspection process are then compared to the expected number to compute the apprehension rate for major violations among air passengers traveling to the U.S.

The justification for its 2010 budget that DHS presented to Congress said the department had apprehended 40.3 percent of those committing major violations entering the United States on international flights in fiscal 2007, but that the number dropped to only 25 percent in fiscal 2008. For fiscal 2009, the document said, the department set a goal of apprehending 25 percent again, and then raised the goal to 26 percent for fiscal 2010. An annual performance review updated by DHS in May also said the department caught only 25 percent of those committing major violations while entering the U.S. by air in fiscal 2008 and that the department had set goals of apprehending 25 percent of such violators in 2009 and 26 percent in 2010.

A statement provided to media on Sept. 11, 2009 by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the DHS agency responsible for screening international travelers entering the United States, said the vast majority of passenger violations that fall into the major violations category are narcotics violations.