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The ombudsman

It has been four years since Prakash I Khatri created history by being appointed the first-ever Ombudsman of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services -- a big move for a man of such humble beginnings.

He earned his bachelor's from Stetson University (Class of 1981) and JD from Stetson University College of Law (Class of 1983), and was admitted to the Florida State Bar in 1984. At 22, he was the youngest attorney in the state’s history. After a stint with the Florida Bar Immigration and Nationality Board Certification Committee -- where he developed and evaluated board certification exams -- Khatri established a roaring immigration practice and spent almost two decades representing individuals and businesses from more than 100 countries in the area of immigration law, providing strategic planning and visa processing advice to corporate clients.

He worked for five years as manager
The son of struggling Gujarati immigrant hoteliers, his first job was helping his parents run their small motel in Florida while he went to college and then law school and graduated top of the class.
Photo: Prakash Khatri
of immigration and visa processing at Walt Disney World in Florida when he was tapped for the job with the USCIS -- an appendage of the Department of Homeland Security that replaced the erstwhile Immi-gration and Naturalization Service.

Khatri took a massive pay-cut to come to Washington as a public servant, but whenever he appears at several Indian-American community events, he always speaks proudly of his Gujarati roots and strongly urges Indian Americans to consider public service, even for a few years.

In his annual reports, he has never been reticent to push the envelope and punch holes in the agency and point to its flaws. Last year, for instance, while delivering his third annual report to Congress, he fearlessly pointed out that the USCIS was circumventing a lack of funds by making use of backlogs simply to maintain a balanced ledger and charging 'premium processing' rates from employers when it could offer this service free to all applicants.

Khatri once described his primary objective as being 'to develop practical recommendations that support the effective 21st century immigration system, that not only ensures national security, but also promotes efficiencies through the use of modern technology and offers improved customer service.'

He added that, to do that in a way that was 'non-intrusive, customer-friendly, and shows the welcoming nature of the American immigration system' was what he and his team was committed to. For a son of immigrants, it seems like an apt way of giving back.