Each year, HRI celebrates the law firms, institutions, and individuals that help people fleeing violence find safety in Dallas by honoring them for their contributions to HRI’s clients, who are immigrant survivors of human rights abuses from across the world. This honor is called the Angel of Freedom Award.
PETE HAS A GREAT PASSION FOR WORKING WITH PEOPLE seeking asylum in this country, and his clients through HRI have changed his life forever. Pete maintains an active school/employment law practice, assisting clients on compliance with the Public Information Act, Open Meetings Act, FERPA, employee grievance processes, EEOC complaints, Title VII and Title IX Requirements, litigation, and contract review. Pete also maintains an environmental practice assisting clients with CERCLA, CAA, and public water system compliance.
HRI caught up with Pete recently and asked him a few questions:
How did you first hear about HRI?
I first heard about HRI at a job fair during law school at SMU. When I interned at EOIR (Executive Office of Immigration Review), the clerks there were highly complimentary of the work submitted by HRI.
What is your driving force in volunteering with our agency?
Asylum seekers are the bravest people I’ve ever met. They suffer terrible consequences for their beliefs – beliefs in basic freedoms that I take for granted every day. I am in awe of their terrific sacrifices. They’ve fought for so long, and they deserve to have somebody fight for them. It is an extraordinary privilege to represent them. Taking an asylum case is a chance to go on a journey with an incredible person – someone who has often faced horrific discrimination and persecution. As a lawyer, you give everything you have, but the client always gives far more in return. I am forever grateful for my clients’ tremendous perspective. I counsel them on law and they counsel me on life! And I try to take those lessons with me wherever I go.
Please briefly share an ‘aha moment’ (a moment of discovery or insight) that stood out to you during your time with HRI.
The first time a client told her story, I felt a chill – it was a glimpse into a life where fear of the government was present and pervasive from an early age. I’ve felt positive and negative feelings about our government during my life, but raw fear on that level is not something I’ve ever experienced. So often I find that I share the same dreams with my clients. Hope for things like a stable job, a safe home, security for loved ones. But the differences between what I’ve experienced and the life experiences of my clients are vast. As targets of discrimination, they face a seemingly impenetrable wall that blocks their road in life, often merely because they stood up for basic human rights. They’ve fought so hard – and they desperately need someone to fight for them.
What is something you have learned from your experience working with HRI?
On a client-by-client basis, it’s amazing what HRI does. The organization has literally saved lives. It is daunting though when viewed from a policy perspective in our country. How do we proceed when our underlying system of immigration is in such tremendous need of reform? I know that HRI fights the battle on both fronts (through clients and through challenging policy). While the fight to change policy may seem hopeless at times, it helps me understand how absolutely necessary HRI is. For so many clients who come through the door, HRI is their only hope. And we must continue to fight vigorously on their behalf. It is an absolute honor to work with HRI and represent these wonderful clients together.
Why do you believe it is important to fight alongside vulnerable immigrants and refugees?
Because they’ve endured events in life where so many of the things we think are important (as a society) go right out the window. They know what’s actually important. And that’s why it’s so incredibly important to listen to them. Their stories are wellsprings of inspiration and, in a larger sense, often represent a shared experience for brave people across the globe who persevere through multiple forms of discrimination and humiliation every day.