Healing by Helping

Debra Brown Steinberg wants immigration status granted to the families of 9/11 victims

Published in 2006 New York Metro Super Lawyers magazine

By Toni Klym McLellan on July 1, 2006


Debra Brown Steinberg isn’t merely an accomplished attorney; she’s a woman on a mission. A partner in the litigation department of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, Steinberg has represented families of 9/11 victims, working to pass a law that would grant immigration status to some of those families. As of this writing, the September 11 Family Humanitarian Relief and Patriotism Act is wending its way through Congress with strong bipartisan sponsorship and support. “My commitment is to get it done no matter how long it takes,” Steinberg says.

She does not consider the bill an immigration issue; she views it as a human-rights issue. “I think we’ll be judged as a nation by how we treat these people. We cannot be in a situation as Americans where we build memorials to the dead and don’t respect the living,” she says. “I often say that this will be a living memorial to the children of 9/11 victims, ensuring that the terrorists that killed their fathers don’t kill their fathers’ dreams.”

Among the families Steinberg has represented are workers from the Windows on the World restaurant in the World Trade Center. “They were vulnerable for a host of reasons that made their situation particularly compelling and unique,” she says. “They were living hand to mouth, so when their primary breadwinner was killed in the Towers, they needed lots of primary assistance to put food on the table and pay the bills.” Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft was one of several firms that represented these families, who faced complex immigration issues at every turn. “We worked to ensure that these families participated equally with other 9/11 victims,” Steinberg says.

Motivating Steinberg to give so much of her time to this cause are her cultural heritage and her out-of-town roots. “I am Jewish,” she says, “and I always wondered if I were living in Europe in the ’30s and ’40s, would I take in a stranger, would I put myself on the line to help people I didn’t know?” A Nashville native, Steinberg also wants to spread the welcoming spirit she felt when she moved to New York City. “When I came here, I felt the city gave me many opportunities and chances, and I wanted to give back.”

Debra Brown Steinberg is a partner in the Litigation Department of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft and is an experienced trial attorney. Steinberg drafted the Association of the Bar of the City of New York’s main comments on 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund and a substantial portion of the September 11 Victims and Families Relief Act. The New York State Bar Association recognized her with its 2003 Pro Bono Service Award, and the ABA selected Steinberg as one of only five attorneys in the country to receive its 2006 Pro Bono Publico Award.

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