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Davidian to Take Over Ezell’s INS Western Region

Times Staff Writers

Ben Davidian, the chairman of the California Agriculture Labor Relations Board for the last 2 1/2 years, was named Tuesday as the top immigration official in the West, succeeding the colorful and controversial Harold Ezell.

The 38-year-old Davidian, who admitted having no experience in the politically sensitive field of immigration, had been the leading choice to become Western regional commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

“He does have outstanding credentials,” said David Runkel, chief spokesman for U.S. Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh. “We think that he will bring a degree of professionalism to the office.”

Davidian’s predecessor, Ezell, had a penchant for making statements that enraged many Latinos.

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“Hopefully, we can grow from the terrible era of ‘Rambo’ Ezell and make history with Davidian,” said Amin David, the head of Los Amigos de Orange County, a Latino activist group.

Davidian, who is expected to start work Monday at the INS regional headquarters in Laguna Niguel, replaces Robert M. Moschorak, a career INS official who was named last month as a temporary replacement for Ezell after he resigned.

The post is considered a key one since the immigration agency is in the midst of handling the second phase of the 1986 amnesty law. More than 60% of the 3 million immigrants who applied for legal resident status are in the INS’ Western region, which includes California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii and the Pacific island of Guam.

Davidian, a Fresno native whose paternal forebears came from Armenia, faces two difficult hurdles when he assumes his post.

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First, he admits to a lack of experience in the immigration field.

“He basically represents a continuation of Ezell’s ignorance and policies since he has no experience,” said East Los Angeles immigration attorney Antonio Rodriguez.

“It’s troubling to say the least,” added Vibiana Andrede, a staff attorney with the National Center for Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles. “We’ve gone from a hot dog vendor to a know-nothing.”

(Ezell was an executive with the Der Wienerschnitzel Corp. when he was appointed to the INS Western commissionership in 1983.)

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Also, Davidian has been criticized by liberals who say he has dealt unfairly with farm workers since he was named chairman of the ALRB in 1987.

“He is anti-Latino and definitely pro-grower,” said Dolores Huerta, co-founder and first vice president of the United Farm Workers. “Under his leadership, the ALRB no longer looks after farm workers.”

The panel, created in 1975, considers cases of alleged unfair labor practices and disputes surrounding farm union-representation elections.

For his part, Davidian, contacted late Tuesday at his office in Sacramento, said the criticism is not new or fair.

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“That’s just not so,” he said.

He pointed out that similar criticism of inexperience was made of him when he was named to the labor panel, and he said he has a sound grasp of agricultural labor issues. He expects to do the same with immigration.

He also denied he was anti-Latino.

“That is such unfounded baloney,” he said. “When they have nothing else to criticize me for, they always fall back to that.”

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Davidian was scheduled to leave for Washington today for briefings on immigration policies and procedures before returning to California to assume his new post.

He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah and a law degree from the Hastings School of Law at UC San Francisco. He practiced law in Sacramento and San Francisco before heading the ALRB.

Silver reported from Washington. Ramos reported from Los Angeles.


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