NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Countries looking to the United States for direction on refugee policy will reconsider their responsibilities after the U.S. revoked asylum to a victim of domestic violence from El Salvador, immigration experts warned.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday overturned a decision to grant asylum to a woman who was raped and beaten by her former husband for 15 years.
The ruling has global repercussions, as it shows the U.S. abandoning its historic role as a leader on refugee issues, said Jennifer Quigley of the New York-based advocacy group Human Rights First.
“Other countries then don’t feel as if you have to accept refugees, and you can return them to harm,” she said during a telephone conference call with reporters on Tuesday.
The U.S. was key in creating the Refugee Convention, which was ratified in 1951 by 145 nations and declared that refugees should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to life or freedom, Quigley said.
“(Session’s decision) has the ability to undo the entire post-war international order to ensure that countries don’t become persecutors on top of the ones who already force refugees to flee,” she said.
A record 65.6 million people worldwide were forced from their homes due to conflict or persecution as of the end of 2016, the biggest migration crisis since World War Two, the United Nations has said.
Escalating gang warfare and violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala forced nearly 400,000 people to flee in 2016, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
The majority were women and children.
People seeking U.S. asylum have had to show that they fear persecution in their own country based on race, religion or other factors, which have included domestic and gang violence.
But Sessions said that claims of domestic or gang violence would not generally qualify.
“The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim,” he said in his ruling.
The woman affected by the decision, who has not been named, entered the U.S. illegally in 2014. Her ex-husband physically, sexually and emotionally abused her, even as she moved within El Salvador, advocates said.
“She feared for her life and fled to the United States,” said Blaine Bookey, her attorney and co-legal director at the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies.
Immigration lawyers said that the ruling could invalidate tens of thousands of asylum claims now in front of U.S. courts.
Kathryn Hampton, of the non-profit Physicians for Human Rights, said violence against women is “one of the most widespread human rights violations,” and countries able to provide protection are morally obligated to offer asylum.
“Sessions is egregiously overstepping the mandate of his office,” she said.