Gustavo de la Vina, a 20-year U.S. Border Patrol veteran and former teacher in south Texas, will become the chief patrol agent in San Diego, replacing Dale W. Cozart, federal officials said Friday.
De la Vina, 49, a Mexican-American from Edinburg, in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, will become the first Latino chief patrol agent in San Diego, the busiest and highest-profile of the 21 Border Patrol sectors nationwide. He is the patrol's third Latino sector chief, following in the paths of chiefs in McAllen and Laredo, Tex.
The appointment to the $60,000-a-year post was announced in Washington by Gene McNary, commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the parent body of the Border Patrol, which has 3,800 agents nationwide, including about 700 in San Diego.
"I feel very optimistic and confident that I'll be able to meet the challenges in San Diego," said De la Vina, who is scheduled to arrive in San Diego in May. "I know that it's a volatile area, and it's very active."
Since 1984, De la Vina has served as deputy chief patrol agent in El Paso, the second-busiest Border Patrol sector. Between 1979-84, De la Vina was chief of the Border Patrol Academy, the agency's training institution, which is situated near Brunswick, Ga. De la Vina said he began his career as an agent in Eagle Pass, Tex., in 1970, after working as an elementary school gym teacher for six years in south Texas.
De la Vina is coming to San Diego at a time when arrests of illegal immigrants, a traditional barometer of unauthorized immigration, have been rising steadily. Apprehensions border-wide have increased by almost one-third in the past 10 months, a trend that De la Vina, like other immigration officials, says he finds troubling.
"We're going to have to make some evaluations and assessments," said De la Vina, who added that it is too early to determine what moves and changes he will propose in San Diego.
The new patrol chief, like his predecessors, indicated he will not tolerate acts of violence or other abuse by agents under his command. Rights activists in San Diego have frequently accused Border Patrol agents of such abuses. In one particularly egregious case last year, a Border Patrol agent based in San Diego broadcast racial taunts at waiting immigrants from his vehicle's public address system.
"These kinds of incidents must be addressed," said De la Vina, who praised the work of Border Patrol agents. "We will maintain our traditions of professionalism and pride."
De la Vina is a graduate of public schools in the Edinburg area and has a bachelor of arts degree from Pan American University in Edinburg.
Cozart, 50, a 24-year Border Patrol veteran who has served as chief patrol agent in San Diego since 1987, will become chief patrol agent in Marfa, Tex., which is in Texas' isolated Big Bend country. He declined to comment Friday. It was unclear whether Cozart requested the move to the smaller post or whether it had been directed from Washington.
The stretch of border separating San Diego and Tijuana is considered more active than any other along the almost-2,000 mile U.S.-Mexican boundary. Each year, the San Diego area accounts for about one-third of the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants arrested border-wide. Drug seizures have also been increasing dramatically in San Diego, as in other border areas, and border agents have been assuming a larger role in stemming drug trafficking.