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July 28, 2016


Former Cowley student receives award from American Bar Association


Hillary WalshBorn and raised in Wellington and Belle Plaine, KS, Hillary Gaston Walsh attended Cowley College from 2002-2004, during which time she was a CC Singer, in the jazz and concert bands, a supervisor in the Kirk Dale dorm, and a student ambassador.

“I loved my experience there and am proud of my Cowley roots,” Walsh said.

Those roots helped her move on from Cowley College to Troy University (AL) where she received a Bachelor’s Degree in 2009 and later earned a law degree from the William S. Boyd School of Law in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2012.

She currently serves as an attorney in Korea and recently received an award from the American Bar Association, the largest bar association in the United States, for the pro bono work she has done in the United States from Korea. The award is given by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service. Walsh is one of five recipients who will be presented with awards on August 4 in San Francisco, CA, during the ABA's Annual Conference.

“Hillary has demonstrated that she is committed to providing access to justice for indigent and underrepresented populations,” said law school Dean Daniel Hamilton in his nomination letter. “What's particularly interesting about Hillary's pro bono work is that for the past few years, Hillary has spent more than a thousand hours representing pro bono clients in the United States remotely from her home at Osan Air Base in South Korea. I am very proud of Hillary and her work.” 

Walsh came to Cowley College after growing up on a farm in rural Kansas to become the first person in her family to go to college.
Though she had never met one, her dream of becoming a lawyer began in sixth grade thanks to John Grisham and Hillary Clinton's It Takes A Village. Her dream came to life years later, while living in Japan due to her husband Shawn’s assignment there as an F-16 pilot in the U.S. Air Force. Shawn deployed to Iraq for five of the couple’s 18 months there, and Walsh spent several of those months apart volunteering in Uganda at an orphanage. In Japan and Uganda, she met women and children who were openly discriminated against and routinely denied access to justice based solely on their gender, sexual orientation, and economic or marital status.

When the military moved the couple to Las Vegas from Japan, Walsh began law school at the William S. Boyd School of Law, hopeful that if she could become a human rights attorney, she could someday advocate for these women and children.

During law school, her passion became focused while working in the immigration clinic, where, under the wing of clinic director, Professor Fatma Marouf, she assisted some of the most impoverished, desperate, and neglected members of society: undocumented noncitizens.
After graduation, she worked at a leading commercial litigating firm in Las Vegas. Although it wasn’t the human rights work she had set out to do, she enjoyed litigation immensely.

After reading Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In, she vowed to become a human rights attorney, starting by taking one asylum case within the year. Days later, however, her husband called from Afghanistan, where he was deployed, telling her that he had received orders to South Korea and the family would be moving there within the year.

“Determined to take my asylum case before we moved, I contacted the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project (FIRRP), a renowned nonprofit in Arizona that provides legal services to thousands of detained noncitizens there,” Walsh said. “FIRRP not only referred an asylum appeal to me, they also helped me navigate this new legal landscape. Fatma, my law school professor, again provided invaluable guidance. Like far too many asylum seekers, this client had been brutally attacked, shot repeatedly, and several of his family members were killed in their Central American home country for his refusal to join the infamous MS-13 gang; this forced him to flee to the U.S. By winning remand, he would get a fair hearing in immigration court, in addition to preventing his errant removal back to his home country (where his persecutors remain). I drafted his appeal at night while my 10-month-old twin daughters slept; days before moving to Korea, FIRRP notified me that I had won remand.”

In addition, Walsh wrote an article on asylum law titled, “Forever Barred: Reinstated Removal Orders and the Right to Seek Asylum” (66 Cath. U. L. Rev.) that will be published in spring 2017 by the Catholic University Law Review. And, in the continuing pursuit of her passion, Walsh is applying for a teaching fellowship at Georgetown in connection with their LL.M. program in immigration asylum work. 

“I am incredibly fortunate to do the work I believe I was created to do, and being recognized for doing it by the ABA and the many people who nominated me is a huge honor,” said Walsh. “My clients have endured unspeakable tragedies – undocumented teenage girls held captive in Las Vegas and sold for sex; a gay woman who fled from Central America after a gang leader raped her to 'cure' her sexual orientation; a U.S. citizen, born in Louisiana, whom the government detained for more than four years and then deported in error – and I get to help put them on a path to a brighter future. I also love immigration law because of its complexity, but I absolutely couldn't do this work if it weren't for the continued help (and inspiration) of Boyd Professor Fatma Marouf and the outstanding attorneys at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, an organization that has referred many clients to me.” 

In the two years since moving to Korea, she has taken five more appeals pro bono, three of which were to the Ninth Circuit, and she recently wrote an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court pro bono. These cases all involve clients who have endured horrendous tragedy.

“I hope I get to do this work for the rest of my life,” Walsh said. “For now, I am still a stay-at-home mom to three girls under three, and I still work at odd hours to meet deadlines. This would not be possible without my husband Shawn's unwavering support and his orders to Korea. I am forever grateful for both.”

Walsh is honored to receive the ABA's prestigious Pro Bono Publico Award.

“I want to show other young people that dreaming big and doing volunteer work pays off,” Walsh said. “This award is a special milestone for me personally and professionally.”