CJ Alumna Combats Human Trafficking At The Local Level
April 23, 2018
SHSU Media Contact: Emily Binetti
Story by Veronica Gonzalez
Human trafficking continues to challenge the criminal justice system on a state and national level. The Sex Crimes Division of the Harris County District Attorney’s office is working to combat the issue at the local level by hiring quality team members like Sam Houston State University alumna, Jennifer Miranda.
Miranda graduated with her bachelor’s in Criminal Justice in 2015 and her master’s in Homeland Security Studies in 2017 from SHSU. The experience gained from her course work and capstone project for the Homeland Security program opened the workforce door to an opportunity of a lifetime as a criminal analyst.
Her capstone project was developed from the work she submitted for a Transnational Violent Networks course she took, taught by Nathan Jones, assistant professor for Security Studies. Jones’ expertise focuses on drug violence in Mexico, border security, social network analysis and trafficking networks.
“We continue to teach social network analysis basics in our Information and Intelligence Management and Research Methods courses as these concepts are increasingly utilized by intelligence agencies, local, state and federal law enforcement and Homeland Security agencies,” Jones said. “It is one of the joys of my career to be able to give my students the skills that lead to employment in fields that save lives and make our community safer.”
The Houston native chose to focus on comparing transnational human trafficking rings prosecuted in Houston and Georgia. Miranda later narrowed the focus of her original project down to human trafficking of undocumented women. She was drawn to the topic because “it hit home” for her.
“I wanted to pick a population that I was familiar with. I come from a mother who at one point was undocumented. I have family members who at one point were undocumented as well,” Miranda said. “I grew up knowing the hardships that come with being undocumented in this country. I knew I was going to be driven enough to turn this into a capstone.”
Miranda’s parents immigrated to the United States from El Salvador during their civil war in the 1980s. As a child, she grew up listening to stories about the things her parents saw on their journey here.
“It took them about two to three months to get here. The things they saw were horrific. Thank God, nothing bad happened to them, but not everyone has that same luck they did,” she said.
Miranda’s passion for social justice issues came from watching her parents build their lives in the U.S. as she grew up in a predominately Hispanic Houston neighborhood.
To complete her graduate program in Homeland Security, Miranda also had to earn internship hours and worked with the SHSU Criminal Justice Internship Office to complete the final steps of her program.
Miranda chose to work at Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Her position required her to look through files of those detained to confirm all data was correct and present before deportation from the country. While it was hard for her to experience, knowing the situations undocumented immigrants face in their journey to this country, she knew it was still an important opportunity in preparing her for the workforce.
“It broke my heart. I got emotional and you can’t get too emotional being in that field,” she said. “It was extremely difficult for me, but I had to finish.”
With encouragement from her mother, Miranda applied for an internship with the Harris County District Attorney Office following her graduation. Two weeks later, she received an internship offer in the office’s Sex Crimes Division.
During the internship, Miranda dedicated her time to learning every aspect of the agency and fell in love with the work. She decided this was where she wanted to work.
When the agency began planning to expand their Sex Crimes Division, Miranda took the opportunity to submit her resume and capstone project. The hiring committee was impressed and offered her a full-time criminal analyst position.
“Through my capstone on human trafficking, they could see I had a clear understanding of the issue. I believe it gave me the access to get through the door,” Miranda said. “It solidified that not only am I passionate about helping victims, but my ethics, goals and morals align with the division.”
The agency has been pleased with Miranda’s work and integrity. Her contributions to the criminal justice workforce demonstrates the quality of students, programming and opportunities the SHSU College of Criminal Justice provides.
"Having been her supervisor since she officially joined HCDAO, I can say Jennifer is the right person for the job,” said Carla Manuel, director of intelligence for the Harris County District Attorney Human Trafficking/Sex Crimes Division. “Jennifer possesses the right mixture of traits that we in the intelligence field seek in an Intelligence Analyst; a natural inclination to uncover the truth, the drive to bring the offenders to justice, the ability to critically analyze information to yield actionable intelligence and of course, a high degree of work ethics. Working as an integral part of a newly devised initiative to bring human traffickers to justice, Jennifer’s inherent traits complement the team superbly."
With the on-going human trafficking problem, Miranda and her team know they face challenges, but they are working on new strategies to continue the fight while helping victims and survivors seek justice.
“We are moving in a new, challenging direction in the area of human trafficking through a team of investigators, intelligence analysts, social workers and prosecutors,” said Johna Stallings, chief of Human Trafficking/Child Exploitation for the Harris County District Attorney Sex Crimes Division. “We are excited to have Ms. Miranda on board with us in this effort.”
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