After an impressive series of educational successes, Mexican immigrant Elizabeth Becerra is now applying for a job in law enforcement and hopes to work with either the FBI, the Secret Service or the U.S. Probation and Parole Office. Though the application process is long and difficult, she says, “I know that it will be worth it in the end.”
My vision for obtaining my criminal justice career goal has always been to help others and make impacts in my community, state, and nation all together.
Becerra says such a career will be highly rewarding for her as a Hispanic woman. “Even though many might see law enforcement as being anti-immigrants,” she says, “what drew me to this career is the strong desire to help others.” She explains that many Latinos — especially immigrants — are afraid to contact police officers. Becerra wants to be a part of the solution, helping to build a bridge of trust between the Latino community and local, state, and federal agencies. “My vision for obtaining my criminal justice career goal has always been to help others and make impacts in my community, state, and nation all together,” she says.
Becerra came to the United States from Mexico at the age of 8. Her grandparents had worked on poultry farms in Alabama for generations, and through them she and her parents were able to obtain permanent residency. In 2012, she became a U.S. citizen.
In 2016, Becerra graduated from the criminal justice program at Athens State University, in Alabama. She served as vice president of the Criminal Justice Student Association and was a member of the 2014-15 Leading Edge Institute of Alabama. In addition to teaching in Spanish and anti-bullying programs, Becerra also volunteered with the college’s Truancy Intervention Program, was a member of Phi Theta Kappa, and was one of two students selected for a 2015 scholarship from the North Alabama Chapter of the ASIS Foundation, which supports global security education and research with the goal of making the world a safer place.
Becerra says such high achievement isn’t unusual among people in her demographic. Though many adult immigrants tend to fill manual jobs in agriculture or meatpacking that U.S.-born Americans don’t want, immigrant children and first-generation Americans often attend college and seek professional careers. This is supported by research from Pew Research Center, which indicates that in the past decade the Hispanic high school dropout rate has declined and Hispanic college enrollment has increased. The accompanying economic benefit is clear: New American Economy reports that Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District, which hugs the northern border of the state and includes where Becerra lives, is home to 1,347 entrepreneurs. As a whole, the district’s immigrant population wields a spending power of $539.9 million. “Whether at school or at work, we are hardworking,” Becerra says.
Yet Becerra’s home state hasn’t always valued these immigrant contributions. In 2011, Alabama enacted HB 56, a law that prohibited undocumented immigrants from attending public schools and allowed police to stop people upon any “reasonable suspicion” and demand papers proving their immigration status. Although courts overturned some provisions of HB 56, parts of the law remain in effect today, including a provision that allows officers to determine immigration status after a lawful stop for another reason. Although at the time of the law’s passage Becerra and her family had proper documentation and were in the process of applying for citizenship, she says many Hispanic immigrants in the area feared deportation. Personally, she feels that “there is no need to be more afraid here than anywhere else.” But many people in her community “always have to have a backup plan and are always prepared for the worst.” As a law enforcement officer, she would like to help assuage those fears and, she says, “make others feel comfortable.”
Becerra says that many immigrants want the same things that she does: the opportunity to work hard for a better life. “There is a place for everyone here,” she says. ”Getting rid of immigrants is impossible. Everyone should have an opportunity.”