Obama's Kenyan aunt fights deportation, seeks US asylum

Zeituni Onyango, President Obama's Kenyan aunt, has been living illegally in Boston. She is fighting a deportation order, seeking US asylum based on tribal conflict in Kenya and a medical condition.

Zeituni Onyango, President Obama's Kenyan aunt, has been living illegally in Boston. She is fighting a deporation order, seeking asylum in the United States.

In what could be a political embarrassment, President Obama’s aunt – an illegal immigrant from Kenya – is seeking political asylum in the United States

Zeituni Onyango, 57, ignored a 2004 deportation order and has since lived illegally in a South Boston housing development.

Ms. Onyango created problems for the president in 2008 when she was discovered by the media just days before the November election. Although a series of controversies about Obama’s exotic family background has quieted for the most part, Onyango’s case again puts Obama – and the US – in a delicate position.

'It's a very political decision'

“It’s a very political decision,” says Michael Wildes, an immigration attorney and former federal prosecutor. “Political asylum cases are predicated upon a person’s reasonable fear that they will be persecuted if they return to their home country. [Prosecutors are] going to want to make sure they don’t establish a precedent with a country that we typically have good relations with by acknowledging that country is persecuting some of its own citizens.

“If the US grants asylum, there’s going to be a political recoil,” adds Mr. Wildes.

The White House said the president didn’t know his aunt was living in the US illegally and that appropriate laws should be followed.

Onyango, who is the half-sister of Obama’s late father, moved to the US in 2000. She applied for political asylum two years later, but was turned down and ordered deported in 2004, says Lauren Alder Reid, a spokeswoman at the US Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review.

Onyango testified on her own behalf Thursday at a closed hearing in a US immigration court in Boston. Her bid for asylum will likely rest on political and medical grounds.

Tribal violence in Kenya cited

Defense attorney Margaret Wong said Onyango would cite “tribal violence” in Kenya as grounds for asylum, according to the news service AFP.

Two doctors will also testify on her behalf, likely arguing that Onyango should be allowed to stay in the US for medical reasons.

In a November interview with the Associated Press, Onyango said she had Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disorder, which doctors say can cause muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. Onyango arrived at court in a wheelchair with a cane across her lap.

Judge Leonard Shapiro will give Onyango and the government 30 days to file closing arguments before making a final decision sometime this spring. Wong said Onyango would appeal if the judge declined asylum.

In recent years, few Kenyans have sought asylum from the US: 343 in 2008, compared with 9,250 from China. About 20 percent of asylum requests are granted, according to Wildes.


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