LL.M. Alumni Are Making an Impact in Central New York

Each semester, the College’s LL.M. program for foreign-trained attorneys brings highly accomplished and experienced attorneys to the College for an education on American laws. While most return to their home countries with this knowledge, some choose to remain in the States, even the Syracuse area.

three LL.M. students congregate in a hallway, looking at each other and talking.

Three recent LL.M. graduates­ —Chiebuka Christiana Okezie LL.M.’23, Beheshta Rasekh LL.M.’22, and Ahmad Raza Riaz LL.M.’23— have made Syracuse their destination to pursue professional opportunities for meaningful impact. All are Law Associates with the Hiscock Legal Aid Society (LAS) in the Immigration Program, working under the supervision of a licensed attorney.

The LAS Immigration Program serves 18 counties in Central and Upstate New York, with funding from the New York State Office for New Americans. The program provides a full suite of immigration legal services except for H-1B Visas and sponsorship for employment. Riaz focuses on the Central New York area while Okezie works in the southern Mohawk Valley. Rasekh works directly with fellow natives from Afghanistan who are in the Syracuse area after the U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan in August of 2021.

Gregory Dewan, Executive Director, President, and Chief Executive Officer of the Hiscock Legal Aid Society, is grateful that an international law school is in their backyard. “When we post open positions, we are looking for the best people we can find. We’ve had great success finding highly qualified, educated, motivated, experienced graduates from the LL.M. program,” says Dewan.

Dewan notes that the immigration system moves incredibly slowly, with cases pending for years. Even with the drawn-out legal processes, the impact of the LL.M. graduates is being felt in the Central New York community. “We’ve had tremendous success as a program. There are a lot of avenues to relief for people that are incredibly complex to navigate so assisting people through that process is rewarding. Beheshta, who has been with us for two years now, has had success getting Afghan clients’ asylum applications approved which gives them status in the U.S., thus they don’t have to return to a country that is unsafe for them.”

“Having our LL.M. students come to Syracuse from all corners of the globe, gain further legal education, and apply their unique experiences and perspectives that address a need in our community has been a dream of mine since the College established the LL.M. program,” says Andrew Horsfall L’10, Assistant Dean of International Programs. “The alumni benefit by gaining valuable hands-on legal experience and exposure to another legal culture, and our community benefits from their skills as judges and lawyers, second and/or third language proficiency, cultural competency, and a desire to contribute meaningfully to the important mission of the Legal Aid Society.”

headshot of Chiebuka, standing in a hallway smiling at the camera in a white blouse and a black cardigan
Chiebuka Christiana Okezie LL.M.’23 (Nigeria)

Okezie received an LL.B. from Babcock University in Ogun State, Nigeria in 2019 where she held several internships assisting with human rights litigation, contracts, and compliance matters. Okezie also worked at law firms where she handled various legal matters, with a particular focus on criminal and human rights cases.

While Okezie came to the College of Law to study under the distinguished faculty, the University’s commitment to fostering a supportive and inclusive learning atmosphere played a pivotal role in her decision. In addition, she was the recipient of the JAF Foundation scholarship award that is dedicated to fostering the growth of LL.M. students from developing nations in Sub-Saharan Africa with a profound and demonstrated passion for social justice. While at the College of Law, she served on the Class Act! Committee.

She echoes the LAS’s commitment to justice and ensuring accessibility to legal services for underserved communities and individuals. “My role aligns perfectly with my passion to help people,” she says.

“Working in immigration law is important to me because as an immigrant myself, I understand firsthand the struggles and uncertainties that immigrants face, which drives my passion for advocating on their behalf and assisting them according to the provisions of the law,” she says. “It also gives me the opportunity to help individuals navigate complex legal systems and overcome significant challenges.”

That experience allows Okezie to build trust and rapport with clients from diverse backgrounds, effectively communicate with them, and tailor legal strategies that address their specific needs and concerns. “My personal experiences navigating immigration processes gives me insight into the challenges my clients may encounter, allowing me to provide more informed and compassionate representation,” she says.

Beheshta smiles at the camera standing in a hallway, wearing a blue hijab and a white suit jacket
Beheshta Rasekh LL.M.’22 (Afghanistan)

Rasekh embarked on her journey at the College of Law as a distinguished recipient of the Fulbright award, following the completion of an LL.B. degree at the American University of Afghanistan in 2020. Prior to Syracuse Law, she contributed significantly as a Program Assistant at Afghans for Progressive Thinking, a non-governmental organization committed to fostering dialogue on critical issues such as women’s rights, peace, education, and democratic principles within Afghanistan’s academic landscape. Subsequently, she furthered her impact as a legal fellow at a nonprofit organization, orchestrating workshops and training sessions tailored for legal professionals, including lawyers and judges. Upon graduation, Rasekh was awarded a Fellowship at the Hiscock Legal Aid Society (HLAS), where she enriched her practical experience in immigration law. 

Rasekh chose the College of Law’s LL.M. program due to Syracuse University’s excellent academic reputation, diverse programs, and strong alumni network. She decided to remain in Syracuse for several reasons. “The city’s diverse community and the presence of a diverse immigrant population allowed me to continue working with the Afghan community and contribute to the local immigrant support network. Syracuse also provides a supportive and collaborative environment for professionals in the legal field, making it an ideal place for me to continue my work with Hiscock Legal Aid’s Immigration Program.”

Working in immigration law is essential to Rasekh because it allows her to impact the lives of individuals and families directly seeking a better life in the U.S., specifically Afghans. “As an Afghan immigrant myself, I understand the challenges and complexities of the immigration process firsthand, and I am passionate about helping others navigate this journey,” she says.

Her clients directly benefit from working with someone who has first-hand knowledge of the U.S. immigration system along with language skills which are hard to find in Central New York. “Being an immigrant gives me cultural sensitivity, linguistic skills, and a deep understanding of immigrants’ challenges. This personal connection allows me to establish trust with my clients, empathize with their experiences, and effectively advocate for their rights. Moreover, my immigration journey equips me with insights into the intricacies of the system, enabling me to offer more personalized and informed guidance to those seeking legal assistance,” she says.

“I plan to stay in Syracuse for the foreseeable future,” says Rasekh. “I am committed to making a positive difference in the lives of immigrants, and I believe that by staying in this community, I can continue to contribute to the ongoing efforts to provide legal aid and access to immigration pathways.”

Ahmad smiles at the camera, standing in a hallway wearing a blue suit and a black tie
Ahmad Raza Riaz LL.M.’23 (Pakistan)

Riaz holds an LL.B. from the University of Punjab, Lahore and is a Licensed Attorney in the Lower Courts and High Courts of Punjab, Pakistan. Since graduating in 2015, he worked as a legal associate at a private law firm. After passing the bar exams in 2016, he worked at a private law firm as an Attorney representing clients all over the Punjab, Pakistan.

Much like his colleagues, Riaz chose the College of Law’s LL.M. program due to the curriculum that provides a nuanced exploration of different areas of the law. “I was impressed by the faculty’s research and expertise in their field which I believed would provide me exceptional mentorship and learning opportunities. Moreover, the program’s diverse student body and robust alumni network offer unmatched possibilities for networking and building connections within the field. I am happy with my decision as the expectations I developed during the program have came true.” Riaz excelled in his studies, culminating with a CALI Excellence for the Future Award (The Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction) for his top performance in the Professional Responsibility course.

Landing a job in his chosen field, immigration law, in Syracuse after graduation meant Riaz could stay in a city he grew to love during his studies. “I fell in love with the city’s pleasant weather and the welcoming community, which made it an easy decision to put down roots here. Additionally, I appreciate the city’s vibrant cultural scene, outdoor recreational activities, and small-town charm. I was blessed with the birth of my daughter Anfa right before my graduation and have grown to appreciate the quality hospitals and doctors that are located so close to campus.”

For Riaz, working in immigration law is important because he believes in the fundamental principle of equal opportunities and rights for all individuals, regardless of their national origin or immigration status. He continues, “I want to help ensure that everyone has access to a fair and efficient process and that families are reunited and protected from persecution. I’m driven by the desire to make a positive impact on people’s lives and contribute to a more inclusive society.”

Like his colleagues, Riaz sees his background as an immigrant as a distinct advantage when working with his clients. “Being from another country provides me with a unique perspective and understanding of diverse cultural backgrounds, which helps me better relate to and empathize with clients from various countries and backgrounds. I’m able to ask informed questions, understand cultural nuances that might impact a case, and develop tailored strategies that consider multiple perspectives. This diverse experience allows me to provide more comprehensive and thoughtful representation for my clients.”