WASHINGTON — Carla Provost, who has been serving as acting chief of the Border Patrol, will take over as leader of the agency on a permanent basis, Customs and Border Protection announced Thursday.
Ms. Provost, who was appointed acting chief of the Border Patrol last year, will become the first woman to lead the Border Patrol in its 94-year history.
The promotion comes as no surprise since Ms. Provost has been leading the Border Patrol for over a year. But her choice as a chief of the border agency is a significant milestone for women there. Currently, women in the Border Patrol make up only about 5 percent of the agents, one of the lowest proportions among federal law enforcement agencies. In an interview, she said the agency is actively trying to recruit more women.
“When it comes to women obviously there is always more that we can do,” she said. “I know that I am the first female to lead the agency but I definitely know that I will not be the last one.”
Ms. Provost’s official move to the top job comes at a moment of transition for the agency, as the Trump administration pushes forward with plans to add an additional 5,000 agents to carry out the president’s plans to more aggressively target illegal immigration. The agency has frequently come under fire for its immigration checkpoints up to 100 miles away from the border and for its role in the Trump administration’s so-called zero-tolerance policy, which resulted in the separation of thousands of families at the southwest border.
Ms. Provost defends the actions of the Border Patrol.
“It has been my experience that if there are no consequences for violating the law, then people will continue to do it,” she said. But she added: “We do not leave our humanity behind when we report for duty.”
A 23-year veteran of the Border Patrol, Ms. Provost, a former police officer in Kansas, has held a number of positions at the agency. She first served as an agent in Douglas, Ariz., and was later promoted to a supervisory position.
She served in a number of senior positions in Yuma, Ariz., and later in El Paso. She also served as deputy assistant commissioner of the Office of Professional Responsibility at Customs and Border Protection, which is charged with rooting out corruption and misconduct.
When Ms. Provost started at Border Patrol, it was tiny backwater agency at the Justice Department with fewer than 5,000 agents patrolling the northern and southern borders.
Today the agency has nearly 20,000 agents, with the majority of them patrolling the Southwest border with Mexico. Ms. Provost said she and other agents were just given a flashlight and a pair of handcuffs when she first started. Today the agents use high-tech sensors, aerostats and small drone aircraft to carry out their mission.
Ms. Provost, who had been the agency’s deputy chief, became acting chief of the Border Patrol after a management shake-up. Less than a week after President Trump took office, the then-chief Mark Morgan, a former F.B.I. agent, was forced out after four months on the job.
National Border Patrol Council, the union of Border Patrol agents and which had supported Mr. Trump’s bid for the presidency, had often clashed with Mr. Morgan, the first chief who had not served in the agency.
Ronald D. Vitiello, who was named to replace Mr. Morgan, was later promoted to acting deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol.
In June, he was named acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. On Monday, Mr. Vitiello was nominated by Mr. Trump to permanently lead the agency.