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On the Front Line of Immigration

April 5, 2012 | Alumni

In the Douthett family, there are two traditions: the Buckeyes and law school. Following his graduation from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and a five-year stint in the Navy, Trenton Douthett ’06 followed suit and enrolled at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

“My grandfather, father, and brother were all attorneys,” Douthett said. “My dad and brother also went to Ohio State for law school. I was interested in it; it’s an interesting field.”

After his graduation from Moritz, Douthett began working as a senior consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton and then as an associate for Keating, Muething & Klekamp PLL. However, he began considering a career change. “It was a great firm, but the practice of that type of litigation (antitrust) wasn’t for me.”

At the suggestion of his wife, Douthett left his associate position and joined the U.S. De­partment of State as part of its foreign service.

He took an introductory class in Washing­ton, D.C. that was followed by more than six months of Italian-language training. In order to be formally named to a position, Douthett would need to pass a fluency test to ensure he could “carry on a conversation in most settings without making too many errors.”

Douthett passed the test and in 2010 was named the head of the visa section at the consulate in Naples, Italy. The consulate is the only place in Italy where one can obtain an im­migrant visa, and Douthett personally reviews anyone looking to do so.

Immigrant visas and nonimmigrant visas for students or tourists fall within his purview. A typical day involves interviewing scores of ap­plicants and performing administrative func­tions, including the paperwork involved with all visa applications, congressional delegation visits, and budget requests.

Douthett is the ultimate judge of whether someone is eligible for an immigrant visa or not, which he said is the most satisfying part of his job. “I think it’s fantastic,” he said. “Some­times you’ll see people that are just generally enthusiastic and so overjoyed that they get to be reunited with their families.”

Ineligibilities can be determined for several reasons, according to the Immigration and Nationality Act. Crime involving moral turpi­tude, drug trafficking, or association with the mafia are among the ineligibilities. Others are less applicable, though.

“Some are antiquated, like participation with the Nazi Party,” Douthett said, laughing. “But there are quite a few that can be applied.”

Douthett admitted that he draws some satisfaction from denying “bad guys” entry to the U.S.

“That’s a personal satisfaction for me be­cause they aren’t that happy when I tell them ‘no,’ ” he said. “But everybody has to be told personally whether their visa is approved or denied and for what reasons.”

Though a legal background is not required for his position, Douthett said it has been helpful. “What’s interesting about this job is we apply law every day in it,” he said. “Having a law degree really does help. You are the judge – literally. For some of our decisions, there is no appeal or review by higher authority.”

He counts himself lucky that he was as­signed to Naples and not some of the more turbulent areas the State Department serves. In June, Douthett and his family will move back to Washington, D.C. for six months of Spanish-language training before a move to Nogales, Mexico, the border town to Tucson, Ariz.

In the future, Douthett said he could see himself practicing immigration law.

“It all depends on how it goes with raising kids abroad,” said the father of two. “I love the job now, and I’d recommend it to anybody.”

Douthett admits there is one downfall of his current job: the six-hour time difference for watching his Buckeyes on game day during football season.

“Night games are horrible,” Douthett said, laughing. “It’s hard to explain to your 2-year-old son why daddy is so tired Sunday after­noon; it’s because he got up at 1 in the morning to watch football!”