(WOMENSENEWS)–An Indonesian maid who had been working in the United States when she was allegedly pushed down the stairs by her employer was not permitted to re-enter the United States to testify at the resulting trial. She was denied a visa because immigration authorities thought she might try to stay, despite a little-known provision in the Violence Against Women Act specifically designed to permit abused immigrants to be able to return to the U.S. to testify against accused assailants, according to The Associated Press.
Ismiyati Suryono was working as a maid for Saudi Arabian Princess Buniah al-Saud in Florida when al-Saud allegedly pushed her down a flight of steps. Al-Saud was originally charged with attempted aggravated battery, and later was accused of forcing Suryono to work without pay and of stealing electronic equipment from her driver and selling it.
Suryono left the United States to attend her mother’s funeral in Indonesia. However, she was denied a visa to return to Florida because immigration authorities feared she might try to stay in the country illegally. The Violence Against Women Act, passed in 1994, allows non-citizens to be granted visas to attend criminal trials.
Without Suryono as a witness, Assistant State Attorney Mike Saunders went ahead with negotiating a no contest plea for misdemeanor battery charges. The Florida Circuit Court judge accepted the plea–which allows the defendant to accept punishment without admitting or denying guilt–and placed al-Saud, currently in Saudi Arabia, on unsupervised probation. The princess was also fined $1,000 and court fees. The probation will most likely not affect al-Saud’s ability to get a visa to re-enter the United States.
The state attorney told The Associated Press he was not aware of the Violence Against Women Act provision that might have allowed Suryono to return to the United States to testify in a criminal trial. According to the U.S. State Department, in the eight years the provision has been in effect, no such visas have been granted.
Suryono’s attorney, Russell Troutman, expressed concern about the fairness of the immigration department’s action. "Why in the world wouldn’t they give her a visa?" Troutman asked. "I’m speculating that it was an attempt on the part of the administration to do a favor for the royal family."
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