Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct where the Ohayons lived during their first stint in Summit County and when they moved back as well as the spelling of a name.
In 2018, Jaci Ohayon and her family, who formerly lived in Silverthorne, helped sponsor a Haitian boy named Jonas Thermitus so he could move to the United States. The Ohayon family met him while on a trip to the Dominican Republic, and with his mother’s blessing, they helped him secure a school visa so he could attend The Peak School in Frisco.
Today, Thermitus is still attending school in the U.S., and Ohayon is opening a brick-and-mortar immigration law office in Frisco.
Ohayon has 15 years of experience as an immigration lawyer, but at the time of meeting Thermitus, she was on a leave of absence. She had just lost a particularly difficult asylum case and was questioning whether the line of work was meant for her.
“You really give them your heart and your soul when you work so intimately with a client, especially when a client can often be hopeless,” Ohayon said. “To try to channel that hope and keep it alive and work so hard — to get to the point where a judge doesn’t believe your client is heartbreaking.”
Ohayon said she’s had a passion for immigration law since she was in school. Her husband is an immigrant, and she said she feels strongly about giving people a voice and the tools they need to be successful in the U.S.
After meeting Thermitus, and during the effort to sponsor him and get him a school visa, she felt reinvigorated and began practicing again in 2018, the same year Thermitus arrived in Summit County.
When he moved in 2018, Thermitus started suffering from severe symptoms of living at a high elevation. The family moved from Summit County to a lower elevation in Vermont, but Ohayon said they had trouble finding a school that would accept Thermitus’ visa.
Eventually, Thermitus attended a boarding school near Spokane, Washington. The Ohayon family moved back to Summit County in October 2021. They now live in Silverthorne, and the couple’s two kids attend The Peak School.
During that time, Ohayon continued to practice immigration law, but in December, she decided to merge her practice with a colleague who lives on the East Coast. Together, she and Meagan Neil formed Ohayon Neil Immigration Law.
Ohayon said merging the practices allows the two lawyers to add more brainpower to their caseloads.
“When you’re a solo practitioner, you only have so much capacity, and so picking and choosing cases is extremely necessary because you only have so much time you can spend on each case,” Ohayon said. “So combining firms with Meagan, now there’s two attorneys, so there’s two legal minds on things. We’ve got big plans to expand.”
Ohayon does a little bit of everything with a small emphasis in business immigration law, while Neil focuses on family immigration law. The firm’s website states that it also helps with humanitarian immigration, investor visas and citizenship, as well as student, cultural exchange and tourist visas.
Though a good portion of her clients are based outside state lines, Ohayon said she envisions working with local clients, too.
Peter Bakken — executive director of Mountain Dreamers, a Summit County-based nonprofit whose mission is to support local immigrants and their families — said there are a few lawyers providing immigration law services in the county, but there’s still a considerable demand for this work.
“There’s a big need for immigration legal services in Summit County and in the region,” Bakken said. We don’t have the resources up here that exist in the bigger cities or along the Front Range, so as you get into rural areas of Colorado, it’s really difficult to find legal help for immigration matters.”
The new office is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays by appointment only. The firm can be reached by visiting its website at ONILawfirm.com or calling 970-680-1223. It’s located at 610 Main St. in Frisco.