Deportation: What Happened to Jean Louis After He Got Bad Advice From Non-Lawyer

The story of Jean Louis is a sad, to be sure. Sad, but not uncommon, which in itself is sad.

Jean Louis, a native of Haiti, entered the United States illegally. He later applied for asylum. While that application was pending, Jean Louis married a US citizen. Then, he sought permanent residence, by way of his marriage.

Jean Louis received a notice, dated August 2016, explaining that he had to appear for an asylum hearing, in immigration court, in June 2017. The notice made clear that an immigration judge could hold the hearing and deport Jean Louis if he did not attend.

But Jean Louis, who does not speak English, wanted advice. So, he went to someone named Thermitus. Jean Louis asked Thermitus about his notice. Thermitus told him he did not have to go to the hearing because he had another path to permanent residence: marriage.

You may guess what comes next in the story: Thermitus’ advice to Jean Louis was wrong. Really, wrong.

But, here’s the thing: Thermitus was not a lawyer. He did not work for a law firm. To his credit, he did not claim to be a lawyer. And not even Jean Louis claimed that Thermitus intentionally misled him.

But, Jean Louis did claim that Thermitus held himself out as “an immigration expert that performed other work as well.”

In any event, Jean Louis trusted his advice and skipped his hearing.

What happened next? Relying on Jean Louis’s absence, the immigration judge ordered his deportation.

Jean Louis then hired a lawyer who tried to reopen the asylum case. The immigration court refused to reopen. Jean Louis appealed the refusal, and the appellate Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed the judge’s refusal. Again, Jean Louis appealed.

Michael (Robert Deniro) tries to get Nick (Christopher Walken) to stop playing the dangerous game of Russian roulette in the final scene of DEER HUNTER.

However, in the decision released this week, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit left the earlier decisions intact.

In order to have his case reopened, Jean Louis had to show, among other things, that “exceptional circumstances” prevented him from attending the hearing.

The 3rd Circuit’s decision poignantly notes: “[Jean Louis] followed bad advice from someone he trusted. It was his choice—and his alone—to seek and follow that advice. … People make mistakes every day.”

Had a lawyer given that mistaken advice then, in some circuits, Jean Louis would have had a leg to stand on. Unfortunately, Jean Louis sought the advice of a non-lawyer.

Jean Louis will, in all likelihood, have to bid farewell to the United States. This is a sad result because he has a US citizen spouse. Perhaps, they have US citizen children together. Now, they must decide whether to move to Haiti together or to live apart.

What’s also sad is that nothing in Jean Louis’ case is least bit shocking. Every day individuals go to non-lawyers or internet forums to seek advice about legal issues of extraordinary importance. Often the advice is bad. Sometimes it is bad, and the negative effects are small or capable of being repaired. Sometimes the advice is bad, and the negative effects are grave and irreversible.

When receiving advice from a non-lawyer about a serious immigration matter, it is useful to remember you are playing a dangerous game. Think Russian Roulette.