Emily Datnoff still vividly remembers the case. In her second year of law school, she had chosen to work in the Immigration Clinic, where one of her clients, a woman from El Salvador, was seeking asylum in the United States after being targeted by a gang in her native country.
Ultimately, the woman was deported. "It was a death sentence", Ms. Datnoff said of the outcome, but the case did spur her into the field of immigration law.
In November 2011, Ms. Datnoff began an 18-month long OSI-Baltimore Community Fellowship funded by the Open Society Institute-Baltimore. She works within the Maryland Office of the Public Defender providing immigration-related advice about the consequences of certain convictions as a result of the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision on Padilla v. Kentucky.
If the clients are non-citizens, like legal permanent residents, and are found guilty, they may be subject to deportation. After resolution of the criminal matter, Ms. Datnoff also represents them before the federal Immigration Court if necessary.
"Criminal law and immigration law treat conviction differently. The best plea for the clients in their criminal cases could render them deportable in their immigration cases," said Ms. Datnoff, who calls the intersection of criminal and immigration law "interesting and complex and fundamentally unfair."
Ms. Datnoff, who was raised in Baltimore City, traveled widely in South America before entering law school where she was senior articles editor of the Journal of Health Care, Law and Policy and won an award for her work in the Immigration Clinic. She then clerked for Judge Patrick Woodward of the Court of Special Appeals, and was an associate at the Baltimore law firm of Kramon & Graham.
In 2008, the Maryland Immigration Rights Coalition was formed. Ms. Datnoff's fellowship came out of her work with the all-volunteer nonprofit. "There are immigration attorneys, but no low-cost or pro bono immigration services in Baltimore City," said Ms. Datnoff, who, in less than a month of the OSI fellowship, is handling five clients, many of whom face deportation for what she calls "relatively minor" criminal offenses.
"People make mistakes," she said. "My goal is to not have a client deported".