The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service on Wednesday named a new nationwide Border Patrol chief and said he would be based not in Washington but in Orange County.
The appointment comes amid a continuing law enforcement buildup along the almost 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border that has seen the ranks of agents expand rapidly as the force has been reinforced with a broad arsenal of high-technology aids, from aircraft to motion detectors and night-vision equipment.
Gustavo De La Vina, a 27-year border veteran who worked his way up from line agent, was named as assistant INS commissioner, Border Patrol. De La Vina, now the INS Western states director, succeeds Douglas M. Kruhm, the Washington-based chief agent who is to retire at year's end.
De La Vina will remain based in Laguna Niguel, just a 90-minute drive from the border, in what officials described as an effort to bridge the operational gap between policy-oriented Washington and the often hectic border zone.
INS Commissioner Doris Meissner, who made the appointment, said the new chief's proximity to the action would facilitate improved management and coordination of the patrol's increasingly complex operations.
The Border Patrol will include almost 7,000 agents by the end of this fiscal year, a 63% rise since 1994, and its once obscure operations are now closely watched by Congress and others.
De La Vina, 58, served as chief patrol agent in San Diego, the patrol's busiest sector, before becoming regional INS director in 1994. He has also served as deputy chief patrol agent in El Paso and headed Border Patrol operations at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia.
In San Diego, the folksy De La Vina was credited by admirers for taking steps--including the construction of border fencing--to bring under control what he called an almost anarchic flow of illegal immigrants from Tijuana during the late 1980s and early 1990s. But critics say De La Vina's actions only served to divert the illicit traffic to more difficult terrain, often resulting in higher numbers of casualties among undocumented people traveling through deserts and mountains.
De La Vina, a Texas native, is of Mexican ancestry and speaks Spanish. Nonetheless, Latino activists in San Diego often criticized him as insensitive, a charge that he disputed.
De La Vina was traveling in Arizona on Thursday with White House drug policy director Barry R. McCaffrey and was not available for comment.