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In reversal, White House says Obama stayed with uncle who faced deportation

After President Obama's uncle testified in immigration court this week that he briefly provided housing for his nephew more than two decades ago, the White House corroborated his account.

By Staff writer / December 6, 2013

Onyango Obama, President Obama's Kenyan-born uncle, arrives at US Immigration Court for a deportation hearing Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, in Boston. He has lived in the United States since the 1960s, when he came here as a teenager to attend school.

Steven Senne/ AP Photo

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The White House has confirmed that Barack Obama had, in fact, lived briefly with an uncle who faced deportation from the United States – backtracking from an earlier statement that denied the president and his relative had ever met.

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Katherine Jacobsen writes for the Monitor's international desk. 

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On Thursday, Mr. Obama acknowledged that he lived with his Kenyan uncle, Onyango Obama, in the 1980s while preparing to attend Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass.

In 2011, a White House spokesperson denied that the president and his uncle had ever met. This version of events was gleaned from the president’s memoirs and public records, said the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, on Thursday. “Nobody spoke to the president” on the matter, Mr. Carney said.

When Carney heard that the elder Mr. Obama testified in immigration court Tuesday that his nephew stayed with him for three weeks, Carney said he decided to ask the president directly about the issue.

Onyango Obama, who is known as Omar, testified at his deportation hearing that his nephew, Barack Obama, had stayed with him for three weeks while the president was a student at Harvard Law School.

The elder Obama is the half brother of the president’s late father, and he ignored a deportation order for more than two decades, the Associated Press reported.

The president “had met Omar Obama when he moved to Cambridge for law school,” the press secretary said Thursday, and “he [the president] stayed with him for a brief period of time until the president’s apartment was ready.”

Barack Obama studied at Harvard Law School starting in 1988 and graduated in 1991.

“The president has not seen Omar Obama in 20 years and has not spoken with him in roughly 10 years,” Carney said.

A federal judge in Boston ruled on Tuesday that the elder Obama could stay in the US and eventually apply for citizenship.

Carney said there has been “absolutely zero interference” by the White House into the matter.

The president’s relationship with his uncle came up in 2011 when Onyango Obama was arrested for drunken driving in Framingham, Mass., a suburb of Boston.

After he was booked on the drunken-driving charges, police told him he could make a phone call, The Boston Globe reported. “I think I’d like to call the White House,” he reportedly told Framingham police.

The charges were dismissed after he completed a year of probation and 14 weeks of alcohol education, according to the AP.

But the booking had brought to light Onyango Obama's immigration status, and proceedings went forward on that front.

This is the second of President Obama’s relatives from Kenya who have run into immigration problems, according to the Globe.

Onyango Obama’s sister, Zeituni Onyango, also faced deportation, before a Boston immigration judge granted her asylum in 2010. 

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