Iona Students Gain Firsthand Experience with Immigration through Service at Texas Border

Offered through Iona in Mission, this cocurricular service-learning opportunity put students at the forefront of one of the world’s most pressing humanitarian issues

Service-Learning News

A local news story about the border crisis sparked a desire to serve in the heart of Xander Lorah ’26. As he watched migrant families arriving in New York City, it ignited a passion to better understand the immigration process – and to serve those facing challenging circumstances.

“The story mentioned families being transported to New York City from the southern border,” said Lorah, of Haymarket, Virginia. “I wanted to better understand the immigration process as well as serve and welcome newcomers.”

Along with seven other Iona University students, Lorah recently returned from a mission trip to Brownsville, Texas, a border town at the forefront of the immigration issue.

Iona in Mission Brownsville 2024 participants included: 

  • Alesandra Payne ’24
  • Shakinah Silverberg ’24
  • Emily Rivera ’25
  • Alina Denaut ’27
  • Maggie Shaffer ’27
  • Nissaguie Genico ’27
  • Matthew Montoya ’27
  • Xander Lorah ’26   

Offered through the Office of Mission and Ministry, the immersion trip provided an important perspective on the journey asylum seekers experience. It also connected to Iona’s emphasis on cocurricular service-learning, which empowers students to become agents of change by giving them firsthand experience with some of the world’s most pressing issues.

Mornings began with breakfast followed by bus rides to various service sites, where students tackled tasks tailored to each location. Evenings were spent reflecting on the day's experiences before enjoying a communal dinner and games.

The trip aimed to address common misconceptions about migrants, such as the assumption that all are undocumented or entering the country illegally. By educating themselves on the immigration process and visiting the border wall and port of entry, Iona students gained a broader understanding of the complexities involved.

The trip also served as a leadership lesson, highlighting the importance of preparing Gaels for situations that might challenge their personal beliefs.

Lorah, a double major in psychology and political science, plans to leverage the Brownsville experience to advocate for policy changes and promote a more normalized view of immigration.

“I will carry this experience with me by advocating for political change and promoting social normalcy for immigration,” said the trip leader. “Immersion trips are a one-of-a-kind experience that I recommend to any student; when else are you going to have this opportunity?”

Learn more about Iona in Mission and explore upcoming opportunities to serve. 

Office of Mission and Ministry students posing for photo during visit to Brownsville, TX
Office of Mission and Ministry students sifting through bins during visit to Brownsville, TX
Office of Mission and Ministry students at dinner table during visit to Brownsville, TX

Founded in 1940, Iona University is a master's-granting private, Catholic, coeducational institution of learning in the tradition of the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers. Iona's 45-acre New Rochelle campus and 28-acre Bronxville campus are just 20 miles north of Midtown Manhattan. With a total enrollment of nearly 4,000 students and an alumni base of more than 50,000 around the world, Iona is a diverse community of learners and scholars dedicated to academic excellence and the values of justice, peace and service. Iona is highly accredited, offering undergraduate degrees in liberal arts, science and business administration, as well as Master of Arts, Master of Science and Master of Business Administration degrees and numerous advanced certificate programs. Iona students enjoy small class sizes, engaged professors and a wide array of academic programs across the School of Arts & Science; LaPenta School of Business; NewYork-Presbyterian Iona School of Health Sciences; and Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. Iona is widely recognized in prestigious rankings, including The Princeton Review’s 2024 national list of “The Best 389 Colleges” and The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse’s “2024 Best Colleges in America,” which ranked Iona at #66 in the nation overall and #8 in the nation among Catholic schools. Iona’s LaPenta School of Business is also accredited by AACSB International, a recognition awarded to just six percent of business schools worldwide. In addition, The Princeton Review recognized Iona’s on-campus MBA program as a “Best Business School for 2023.” Iona also offers a fully online MBA program for even greater flexibility. In July 2021, Iona announced the establishment of the NewYork-Presbyterian Iona School of Health Sciences, which is now principally located on Iona’s Bronxville campus in collaboration with NewYork-Presbyterian. Connecting to its Irish heritage, the University also recently announced it is expanding abroad with a new campus in County Mayo, Ireland. A school on the rise, Iona officially changed its status from College to University on July 1, 2022, reflecting the growth of its academic programs and the prestige of an Iona education.