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By Harrison Hanvey

March 13, 2024 — “Hey, can you come over here?”

My colleague Maria Teresa waved me down across a busy migrant shelter in McAllen, Texas. We had already been there a few hours and by that point were getting ready to leave — or so I thought.

She introduced me to the family she was speaking with and explained, “They’re from Colombia. They left their home because they were receiving death threats, but the person who was supposed to receive them in the U.S. has stopped responding to their messages.”

“They have an ICE appointment in Washington, DC,” she added, looking me straight in the eyes.

I saw where this was going. I live in DC.

“When is their flight?” I asked uncomfortably.



Maria Teresa and I were in Texas for the gathering of the Jesuit Migration Network, a group of over 25 people from Jesuit organizations across the US and Canada advocating for migrant rights.

At times, the three-day meeting had a heaviness to it. The number of displaced people across the globe is at an all-time high of 108 million. Migrant encounters at the U.S. Southern border are at record highs.

It’s challenging for us in the U.S. to comprehend the circumstances that give rise to these figures. The Venezuelan economy has crashed, contracting by 75 percent. Ecuador, once hailed as a model of peace and prosperity in South America, has seen homicides increase 8-fold in the last few years. In Haiti, criminal gangs hold more power than the remnants of the government.

Migrants walk across the Rio Grande near Juarez, Mexico. U.S. border wall is pictured in the background (Courtesy of Pedro de Velasco).

The journey migrants must undergo is also harrowing. In 2022, 1,400 people lost their lives while migrating north through Latin America. Gangs from the perilous Darien Gap to northern Mexico kidnap and extort hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of migrants and extort them for thousands of dollars in exchange for their lives.

Much of what we talked about during our meetings was how we respond to this reality as individuals, as a group and as a Church. Despite the challenges, the network’s efforts give me hope. Holy Trinity Parish in DC, for example, has supported and accompanied 25 migrant families over the past few years. Each night, Dolores Mission Parish in Los Angeles transforms into a night shelter for homeless migrants. Jesuit Refugee Services USA’s new program, the Migrant Accompaniment Network, connects recently arrived migrants with Jesuit parishes and volunteers across the country.


A child’s shoe is left along the U.S.-Mexico Border (Courtesy of Jorge Palacios).

After the meeting ended, Maria Teresa and I visited the Jesuit-led Del Camino Border Ministries to learn about their work in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley. They brought us to the migrant shelters and camps where they minister, including the Catholic Charities shelter in McAllen. This was where I found myself standing in front of the Washington DC-bound immigrant family — Guadalupe, her husband, Misael, and their 11-year-old son Wilmer.

There in the shelter, surrounded by hundreds of people with similar stories, and trying to decide how to respond to this situation, I thought, Why is this my problem?

But one verse began to pop up in the back of my mind: “For I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Despite my reservations, I found myself asking my housemates if the family could stay with us. They were understandably hesitant. As one of them quipped, “I’m an armchair liberal. I like to talk about this stuff, but I don’t want to do anything about it!”

The family only had money for one plane ticket, so Guadalupe flew alone to DC, where a willing friend of mine picked her up and brought her to stay at his family’s house.

The next morning, a parishioner from Holy Trinity drove Guadalupe to her appointments with ICE, shuttling her around town all day.
My housemates ultimately agreed to host Guadalupe, and she stayed with us for the next few weeks. Other friends pitched in to get her clothes, basic toiletries and a cell phone.

A few days later, another couple visiting the McAllen shelter met Misael and Wilmer and generously bought their plane tickets to DC. Now they are paying the family’s legal fees as well.

Reunited in DC, Guadalupe and her family are now staying in yet another of my friend’s homes. As they say, it takes a village.

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me…”

Throughout the Jesuit Migration Network gathering, we reflected on the border: A line drawn in the sand, a fence built in the desert, a wall erected to keep us apart. We also reflected on the borders in our own hearts. Walls that we build inside of us, under the auspices of safety, that ultimately divide us from our sisters and brothers and separate what’s mine from what’s yours.

Maria Teresa (left) with Jesuit Refugee Service and Kino Border Initiative staff in El Paso (Courtesy of Jorge Palacios).
The Jesuit Migration Network meets with staff at Cafe Mayapan, a restaurant and community organizing hub in El Paso (Courtesy of Harrison Hanvey).

These physical and emotional barriers at times seem insurmountable, but the story of Guadalupe’s family illustrates how change begins with small, personal actions. The call to welcome the stranger isn’t just a theological concept but a lived reality that invites a response from each of us. This family’s journey became a shared endeavor—from Maria Teresa to my “armchair liberal” housemate who, now that Guadalupe has moved out of our house, often asks me how she’s doing and if she’s okay. The community that rallied around this family is a testament to the potential for goodness when we set aside our hesitations and extend a helping hand.

My daily work consists of coordinating political advocacy around issues such as immigration, with the hope that by creating just policies we will create a more just society. However, policy is a reflection of our culture, and the barriers that each of us build in our own hearts play out in the public square. Our hope for a better world lies not just in policy change, but in embodying hospitality, empathy and love. In the end, it’s the small acts of kindness that have the power to create the culture of welcome and compassion that we long for and challenge the narratives that divide us.

*The names of the migrants have been changed.


Harrison Hanvey is the Manager of Outreach and Partnerships for the Jesuit Conference Office of Justice and Ecology. Born and raised in Wichita Falls, Texas, he graduated with a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Texas Christian University. Soon after graduation, he moved to Central America to work with vulnerable populations in rural communities. Before joining the Jesuit Conference, he worked at the Catholic University of America in the Office of Campus Ministry as the Associate Director of Community Engagement, Social Justice and Catholic Social Teaching Initiatives.