Raisa Cohen ‘07: From Immigrant to Immigration Judge

Judge Raisa Cohen
May 1, 2024

Hon. Raisa Cohen has presided as an Immigration Judge in the New York Federal Plaza Immigration Court since 2016. Her service on the bench follows an earlier career as Assistant Chief Counsel for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and as an immigration attorney in private practice. Judge Cohen’s journey from a young refugee to a distinguished Immigration Judge embodies the essence of the American dream, interwoven with a steadfast commitment to justice.

As a child growing up in the former Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan, Judge Cohen witnessed firsthand what life is like for people who are denied basic rights and freedoms, including the right to express their opinions and exercise their religious beliefs. “One of the lessons I drew from that experience is that justice depends not only on the laws, but on those who interpret and apply them,” Judge Cohen reflects. Her immigration to the United States as a refugee opened a new chapter, one filled with opportunities and the promise of freedom. 

Judge Cohen’s pursuit of law was deeply personal, driven by her own experiences and the desire to make a meaningful difference in society. Her educational journey at St. John's Law was pivotal, marking the beginning of her lifelong dedication to immigration law. As a student there, she participated in the Refugee and Immigrant Rights Litigation Clinic run in partnership with Catholic Charities’ Immigration Legal Services Department. 

Under the supervision of senior attorneys, Clinic students represent immigrants—many refugees and asylees—in removal and appellate proceedings. “In the Clinic, I adopted a high standard of great lawyering, an excellent work ethic, and a passion for immigration law,” says Judge Cohen. “I remember my first day in immigration court appearing as a student attorney. Little did I know I would become an Immigration Judge and share the bench with judges who I admire and learned from.”

Judge Cohen's transition from private practice to government service was out of a commitment to serve the public and make a tangible impact. “My grandfather, who went through war, persecution, and other hardships, sat me down and said, ‘Raisa, we have sacrificed everything for you to come here. Not only do we want you to find a new home in this country, but we also want you to make a difference in people's lives,’” she recalls, adding, “So, my desire to become a judge wasn’t only to further justice. It was fueled by the promise I made to my grandfather to make a meaningful contribution to the U.S. judicial system and to be the type of judge that our system depends on: rigorously honest, impartial, and independent.”

Since becoming an Immigration Judge, Judge Cohen has navigated the complexities of immigration law with empathy and intellect. “Intersecting with criminal law, family court issues, and tax law, immigration law is intellectually stimulating and socially significant,” she says. Her approach to the bench is formed by her unique perspective as an immigrant, a trial attorney, and a private bar attorney. “In various capacities, I’ve presided over numerous removal proceedings, bond hearings, and complex cases involving national security issues, persecutor and human rights abuser issues, as well as immigration fraud. These experiences have given me a distinctive viewpoint on the role of each and every party to the proceedings.”

As she looks to the future, Judge Cohen remains dedicated to contributing to the legal community and mentoring the next generation of lawyers. Fulfilling her promise, Judge Cohen has not only furthered justice but has also become an emblem of hope and possibility for immigrants and a testament to the impact an individual can make through dedication and integrity.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this story do not represent the official position of the U.S. Department of Justice, the Attorney General, or the Executive Office for Immigration Review.