Iraqi Immigrant Trains at U.S. Border Patrol Academy

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Border patrol agents stand next to a border fence used for training at the United States Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, New Mexico, U.S., June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Reporting by Ben Gruber and Lucy Nicholson. Writing by Melissa Fares.

At a training facility in the middle of a desert in New Mexico, aspiring border patrol agent Stevany Shakare sprinted laps in 103-degree Fahrenheit weather as her instructors shouted at her to run faster.

Border patrol trainee Stevany Shakare, 23, runs during physical training class at the United States Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, New Mexico, U.S., June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Shakare, a 23-year-old from Iraq, is one of three women in a class of 20 at the U.S. Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, New Mexico. They are powering through an intensive 112-day training program, in which agents must master firearms, high-speed, off-road vehicle chases, immigration law, conversational Spanish and gruelling physical tests.

They are preparing to track, apprehend and arrest immigrants and drug traffickers attempting to enter the United States illegally.

Border patrol trainee Stevany Shakare, 23, (2nd L) takes part in a physical training class at the United States Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, New Mexico, U.S., June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

“I am obviously very short and tiny,” said the petite Shakare, surrounded by men who appeared twice her size. “But I’m trying and giving it my all – that’s all that matters.”

In 2004, at the age of 10, she fled her home after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Her family settled in Michigan where she graduated from Wayne State University with a degree in criminal justice.

Border patrol trainee Stevany Shakare, 23, (3rd R) takes part in a physical training class at the United States Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, New Mexico, U.S., June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

“Had I stayed in Iraq, I probably wouldn’t have ended up to where I am today,” said Shakare, who said she learned English watching “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” on television.

“Probably wouldn’t have gone to college, wouldn’t have gotten a degree. I feel like I owe my life to this country,” she said.

Border patrol trainee Stevany Shakare, 23, takes part in a physical training class at the United States Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, New Mexico, U.S., June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

U.S. President Donald Trump has pledged to crackdown on illegal immigration and strengthen security along U.S. borders, particularly with Mexico. The Department of Homeland Security in February announced plans to add more than 5,000 border enforcement agents to the current force.

Chief Patrol Agent Dan Harris, who runs the academy, said a major increase in violent crime along the southern border in the past year encouraged many to become border patrol agents.

Border patrol trainee Stevany Shakare, 23, (2nd L) eats lunch with other trainees at the United States Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, New Mexico, U.S., June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Shakare said she now has the full support of her parents, both of whom plan to watch her graduate in November.

“They weren’t OK with it at first. It was the dangers of the job and being away from home. But eventually they realised this is what I wanted to do,” Shakare said.

“My mom tells all of her friends, ‘This is what my daughter is doing!’ She’s excited about it.”

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Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Frank Ayala points out where illegal immigrants are sometimes found on trains at the United States Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, New Mexico, U.S., June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

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