Obama's aunt granted U.S. asylum, 6 years after she was to be deported to Kenya

A U.S. immigration court has granted asylum to President Barack Obama's African aunt, allowing her to stay in the country and setting her on the road to citizenship after years of legal wrangling, her attorneys announced Monday. (May 17)
By Associated Press
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

CLEVELAND -- A U.S. immigration court has granted asylum to President Obama's African aunt, allowing her to stay in the country six years after she was ordered deported, her attorneys announced Monday.

Kenya native Zeituni Onyango, 57, is the half-sister of Obama's late father. The basis for her asylum request was never made public.

"The asylum process is confidential, and she wants to keep it that way, so we can't get into details on why the judge granted asylum or the exact basis for her claim," said her attorney, Scott Bratton. "She doesn't want people to feel sorry for her."

Another attorney, Margaret Wong of Cleveland, said last year that Onyango first applied for asylum "due to violence in Kenya." The East African nation has been fractured by cycles of electoral violence every five years.

People who seek asylum must show that they face persecution in their homeland on the basis of religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a social group.

Medical issues also could have played a role. In a November interview, Onyango said she was disabled and was learning to walk again after being paralyzed from Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder in which the immune system attacks the nerves.

When Onyango testified in February at a closed hearing in Boston, she arrived in a wheelchair, and two doctors testified in support of her case.

Onyango moved to the United States in 2000. Her first asylum request was rejected, and she was ordered deported in 2004. But she did not leave the country and continued to live in public housing in Boston.

Onyango's status as an illegal immigrant was revealed just days before Obama was elected in November 2008. Obama said that he did not know his aunt was living here illegally and that he thought the laws covering the situation should be followed.

A judge later agreed to suspend Onyango's deportation order and reopen her asylum case.

Wong has said that Obama was not involved in the Boston hearing. Obama spokesman Nick Shapiro said Monday that the White House had no involvement in the case at any point in the process.

Onyango plans to apply for a work visa and then for a green card, her attorneys said.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company