"If I owe my life to somebody in this world, that one will be you. You did not give me another chance to only live, but you gave hope and opportunity to my old sick parents so they may live to see me safe and rebuilding my life again."
So wrote a former Iraqi translator for the United States in a letter to Eric Blinderman of New York City.
Blinderman heads Proskauer's Iraqi Human Rights Project that has helped 400 Iraqi translators, drivers, and logisticians who supported United States interests in Iraq, find refuge here.
He has devoted nearly 2,400 hours to the three-year project, including 570 hours in 2010. His work earned him the State Bar's 2011 President's Pro Bono Service Award for the First Judicial District.
In the case of the translator, he fled Iraq to the Czech Republic after unknown insurgents targeted him as a collaborator and traitor because of his work with the United States.
When the Czech Republic deported him to Iraq, he returned home to his family. Insurgents smeared blood on his door with a message that read, "Death to the Traitor." The translator's parents and sisters fled to another city.
He then called Blinderman who encouraged him to move to various safe houses, while Blinderman contacted people to help the translator flee Iraq permanently. The two communicated in Arabic and by text messages.
As a result of the efforts of Blinderman, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and various other government agencies, the translator was able to enter Amman, Jordan, and later the United States.
This is just one of 160 cases and one of many people whom Blinderman has assisted.
If not for a chance email from fellow Cornell Law alum Eric Pelofsky, Blinderman might never have discovered his life's work.
That email led to Blinderman assisting the U.S. government in Baghdad with the trial of Saddam Hussein, where he spent the next three years of his career.
In 2007, he returned to the firm with a new mission: helping former translators and drivers seeking to leave Iraq as a result of threats they had received while working for the U.S.
Today, Blinderman leads a team of more than 60 Proskauer lawyers and staff who help Iraqis whose lives are in danger. Blinderman plays an integral role in each case that requires creative, strategic thinking and tenacious advocacy.
Leading by example and demonstrating genuine concern for his clients, he has inspired dozens of other lawyers to get involved and donate their services.
Receiving many late night calls and desperate emails from asylum seekers, Blinderman has never turned anyone away.
Unsurprisingly, most of his clients see him both as a lawyer and trusted friend.
In his words:
"If you're holding a life vest in your hand and you see someone drowning, when, or is there ever a time, that you're morally permitted to walk away? I think the answer to that is never."