Rangel is using her time at Harris to develop strong quantitative skills and build a network of policymakers to make change in the crime and immigration policy spheres.
Headshot of Itzel Rangel
Itzel Rangel

Itzel Rangel, MPP Class of 2024, said the wrongful arrest of a neighbor was a pivotal moment for her. “In 2006, the President of Mexico had declared a war on drugs and put the military in the streets to serve as police. My neighbor was arrested on suspicion of involvement with a cartel and taken to a maximum-security prison. Although he was eventually let go because there was never any evidence, that incident inspired me to study political science and international relations to better understand conflict.”

Rangel subsequently earned her bachelor’s degree at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics, writing her thesis on drug trafficking at the Mexico-US border.

Rangel, who was raised in Ensenada, a town in northwestern Mexico, noted that the Mexico-US border is one of the most transitive borders in the world. “It's very integrated with the US; a lot of people use US dollars as currency, and there are a lot of expats living there.”

Fueled by a sense that the current system for addressing drug trafficking at the Mexico-US border was not working, Rangel studied these topics for the next four years in varying capacities: first at a think tank focusing on police reform in Mexico, and then at a nonprofit where she focused on civilian oversight of the police—“which was a new concept in Mexico. We studied programs in other places like Northern Ireland and Chicago.”

Rangel subsequently received a job offer to work with the Consulate General of Mexico in Chicago. “I always wanted to be in diplomacy related to Mexico, and this position provided that—plus it gave me the opportunity to work and live somewhere new.” There, Rangel connected people to resources tailored to the immigrant community. "I primarily managed some of the educational components, promoting bilingual programs and helping people understand the US education system."

However, Rangel realized she needed an advanced degree if she wanted to have the impact she sought. “My work experience was more qualitative, and my undergraduate program was very quantitative—but it was a long time ago. I wanted to update my skills in statistical analysis and technology used for public policy and build a strong network in the fields I wanted to pursue, and the Harris MPP aligned perfectly with those goals.”

After her first year at Harris, Rangel worked as an intern with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “That experience encouraged me to add immigration to my research interests because migration is often considered a problem when it shouldn't be.”

Academically, Rangel said the electives at Harris have introduced her to new and diverse policy topics. "I really enjoyed 'GIS Applications in the Social Sciences' and 'The Racialization Experiences of Immigrants and the Second Generation.' These classes provided me with new policy analysis tools and a better understanding of the U.S. context of immigration. In addition, 'Management Matters: Leadership, Strategy, and Getting Things Done' equipped me with crucial new skills for moving policy forward."

Rangel also explored courses at the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. “One covered housing and inequality, and one explored the abolition of the prison industrial complex—topics that are intersectional with gender, race, and class. I am excited to dig deeper in these areas as well.”

As for what’s next after Harris, Rangel said she aims to make direct impacts in local communities. “I'm trying to pivot my career a bit but stay in immigration and social justice. I’d like to stay in Chicago and continue the community work I’ve done with the immigrant community.”