by Beth M. Johnson
This January, the Dallas Bar Association will honor Bill Holston, Executive Director of the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, Inc. (HRI), with the 2019 Martin Luther King, Jr. Justice Award, which recognizes area leaders whose service to the community embodies the example of Dr. King. One cannot help but notice the plight of the immigrant and refugee communities in today’s news. Among their many other concerns and daily needs, these immigrants and refugees find themselves attempting to navigate a complex legal system. Bill Holston and the HRI provide guidance and aid to help smooth that path. HRI is a nonprofit organization that provides legal assistance to refugees and immigrants in the North Texas area who are the victims of human rights abuses. It was founded in 1999 by attorney Elizabeth “Betsy” Healy and social worker Serena Simmons Connelly.
An Alabama native sporting a bow-tie, Bill Holston graduated high school in Texas, where he also attended undergrad (UT Dallas) and law school (SMU). Before joining HRI in 2012, his career had been focused on commercial trial work as a partner of Sullivan and Holston Law Firm. While he found commercial litigation to be intellectually stimulating, his pro bono immigration work provided a more meaningful reward. Working in immigration gives Holston the opportunity to change the lives of his clients, as well as those whose lives his clients touch. Holston is inspired by the asylum seekers’ stories and their strength to persevere through their tribulations. Holston has described the work as “the most fulfilling part of [his] life outside [his] family.”
“Our clients come to America with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They are prohibited from working and not entitled to government benefits but have taken huge risks so they have a chance at freedom and safety in our country,” said Holston. “Our new challenges include providing social services to clients through our pro bono lawyers, doctors, and other volunteers. We need to provide increasing social services especially given the huge backlog of cases in Immigration Court.”
Along with other members of the DBA, Holston volunteered his services at DFW Airport when the travel ban was instituted. He traveled to Paris, Texas, along with many other legal volunteers and legal service organizations, to help immigrants affected by one of the largest ICE raids in recent history. With his talented team at HRI, he has been working to help the children separated from their immigrant parents at the border. Holston also promotes collaboration with other area groups providing related services through a collaborative program called the Force for Immigrant Rights & Empowerment (FIRE) Coalition to help share resources and spread information through the community.
Since the mid-1980s, Holston has been providing pro bono services for political and religious asylum applicants from 21 countries, helping clients navigate the legal system, and learning about human rights efforts in other countries. Through his work with HRI, Holston has tried multiple asylum trials. In 2005, HRI awarded Holston with the Angel of Freedom Award. In 1997, he received the Outstanding Political Asylum Lawyer Award from the Dallas Bar Association, and in 2002, he received an award for Distinguished Pro Bono Service Award from the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program. In 2015 Mr. Holston was recognized as a Distinguished Alumni for Public Service by the SMU Dedman School of Law. Additionally, he has authored commentaries and editorial on human rights issues for KERA 90.1 FM and The Dallas Morning News. He is a frequent speaker on human rights issues, including most recently the protest of the family separation policy of the government.
One of Holston’s team members, Pilar Ferguson, describes Holston as motivating, inspiring, flexible, and open to new ideas. He does not micromanage his team, but rather, encourages them to find new ways to serve the refugees where they are.
Holston has been a member of the Pro Bono College of the State Bar of Texas since 1998 and is a past-chair of the Dallas Bar Association’s Pro Bono Activities Committee. He has been an active participant in the DBA’s Transition to the Practice of Law Program. Holston enjoys spending his weekends getting out into nature for hikes as a means to unplug from the stresses of life. He writes a series of articles entitled “Law Man Walking: Nature Treks with Bill Holston” for D Magazine. He and his wife are active members of Greenland Hills United Methodist Church. Holston and his wife, Jill, dyslexia specialist in a Title One Public School, have two grown children, Fred and Will.
Mr. Holston says receiving the MLK award from the Dallas Bar is one of the greatest honors of his career. “I am very thankful to have the opportunity to lead the great team at HRI, and accept this award as a recognition of their hard work for justice.’
Please join us in thanking and honoring Bill Holston at the 2019 Martin Luther King, Jr. Justice Award Luncheon on Monday, January 21 noon at Belo. Members of the DBA and community are invited to attend. For reservations, contact email@example.com. A plated lunch will be served at a cost of $14.95.
Beth M. Johnson, Attorney at Law, is Co-Chair of the Publications Committee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.