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Obama's aunt becomes symbol in immigration debate - Should Obama's aunt be allowed to stay in the USA?

Posted by on Mar. 31, 2009 at 5:21 PM
  • 18 Replies

 

Obama's aunt becomes symbol in immigration debate

BOSTON – Barack Obama's Kenyan aunt lost her bid for asylum more than four years ago, and a judge ordered her deported. Instead, Zeituni Onyango stayed, living for years in public housing.

Now, in a case that puts the president in a tough position both personally and politically, Onyango's request is being reconsidered under a little-used provision in U.S. immigration rules that allows denied asylum claims to be reheard if applicants can show that something has changed to make them eligible.

Such as the ascension of her nephew to the presidency of the world's most powerful country.

"If she goes back to Kenya, she is going to be much more in the limelight, and that, in and of itself, could put her at a greater risk. The chances of her going back and keeping a low profile are gone at this point," said Boston immigration attorney Ilana Greenstein.

Onyango, 56, the half-sister of Obama's late father, moved to the United States in 2000. Her first bid for asylum was rejected, and an immigration judge ordered her deported in 2004; she continues to live in public housing in Boston.

In December, a judge agreed to suspend the deportation order and reopen her case. An initial hearing is scheduled Wednesday in U.S. Immigration Court in Boston.

Obama has said repeatedly that he didn't know his aunt was living in the United States illegally and believes that laws covering the situation should be followed. If she wins asylum, he could look soft on immigration enforcement. If she loses, he could face criticism from immigrant advocacy groups.

The White House says Obama is staying out of it.

"The President believes that the case should run its ordinary course, and neither he nor his representatives have had any involvement," spokesman Ben LaBolt said last week.

Over the past decade, relatively few Kenyans have sought asylum in the United States: 343 through immigration courts in the fiscal year 2008, compared with 9,250 asylum requests from China and 6,424 from El Salvador. Only 60 of those Kenyans were granted asylum.

From the fiscal years 1999 through 2008, about 20 percent of Kenyans who applied through immigration courts were granted asylum, according to an Associated Press review of immigration records.

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.

Onyango's reasons for seeking asylum have not been made public, and her immigration hearing will be closed at her lawyer's request.

Kenya has been fractured by violence in recent years. In 2008, more than 1,000 people were killed in the East African nation following a disputed presidential poll, which saw a Luo candidate, Raila Odinga, declared loser to President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, the largest tribe in Kenya.

Since Kenya gained independence from Britain in 1963, periodic tensions have arisen among the Luos — Onyango's tribe — and some of Kenya's other tribes, including the Kikuyus.

J. Patrick Kelly, an international law professor at Widener University, said the United States views Kenya as fairly stable. The country acts as a regional diplomatic and economic hub and hosts the only headquarters for a United Nations agency outside the West, the U.N. Environment Program.

Onyango could improve her chances of winning asylum if she can argue successfully that some in the Kenyan government may perceive — because of her relationship with Obama — "that she may have some level of political power and be able to transfer that power" to her tribe, Kelly said.

Onyango's lawyer, Margaret Wong, may also argue that she needs to stay in the United States for medical reasons. Onyango, who has been photographed walking with a cane, has some kind of a neurological problem, said Mike Rogers, Wong's spokesman.

In his memoir, "Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance," Obama affectionately referred to Onyango as "Auntie Zeituni" and described meeting her during his 1988 trip to Kenya.

Onyango has not responded to requests for interviews. Her case is being closely watched by people on all sides of the immigration debate. Some critics say her status has already damaged the president's credibility on immigration issues.

"The president's moral authority has been compromised by his aunt's situation," said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "Americans have the right to expect aliens to respect our law, to leave when they are supposed to and not thumb their nose at the legal system."

But immigrant advocates say opponents are unfairly using Onyango's case as political fodder.

"Whether it's the president's aunt, my aunt or your aunt — anybody who's seeking asylum is seeking that status for a very important reason," said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. "We are always worried that a person whose asylum claims are rejected, that they end up in a situation where they are a victim of violence."

 

 


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by on Mar. 31, 2009 at 5:21 PM
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Replies (1-10):
ain-gell72
by on Mar. 31, 2009 at 5:23 PM

nope! she needs to go back to her country and then come back throught the proper channels, same as everyones else who wants to live here and not born here. just b/c her nephew is the pres, don't make shit!

charlie06
by on Mar. 31, 2009 at 5:29 PM

 Nope, her nephew should NOT play a role in this at all. This is something that has been going on for a long time. She was told to go back along time ago. And that is what she needs to do. Using Obama as a reason to stay in the states is low.

godsgirl26
by on Mar. 31, 2009 at 5:30 PM


Quoting ain-gell72:

nope! she needs to go back to her country and then come back throught the proper channels, same as everyones else who wants to live here and not born here. just b/c her nephew is the pres, don't make shit!


Ann7227
by Bronze Member on Mar. 31, 2009 at 5:31 PM

I agree!!!! It's like a slap in the face. She's should go back and come through legally.

Quoting ain-gell72:

nope! she needs to go back to her country and then come back throught the proper channels, same as everyones else who wants to live here and not born here. just b/c her nephew is the pres, don't make shit!


fullofhope325
by on Mar. 31, 2009 at 5:32 PM

 Must be nice to get special treatment just becuase your nephew is President of the USA.

llrey74
by Member on Mar. 31, 2009 at 5:40 PM

Really? Wow.  As far as him not knowing, when they kept throwing the proof in his face yeah right!  Sorry but if you are willing to bend the laws for one then you will have to do it for all.

godsgirl26
by on Mar. 31, 2009 at 5:41 PM


Quoting fullofhope325:

 Must be nice to get special treatment just becuase your nephew is President of the USA.


SunandMoonMom
by Member on Mar. 31, 2009 at 6:29 PM

I'd like to know, since she was living in public housing, who is paying her legal fees?  Is her lawyer working pro-bono?

She will be allowed to stay, and we all know why.  Anyone who shows opposition will be seen as cold-hearted and/or racist.  It's just sad to me.  I'm sure she has reasons for wanting to remain in the states, but I feel that her being allowed to stay after disregarding our laws so blatantly while receiving financial assistance from we citizens...grrr!  It just infuriates me, and it would anger me whether the person was Obama's relative or not.

I used to work a job in which I was aware of persons who were living here despite expired Visa's, etc.  It was so stressful and frustrating to me...Part of the reason I quit when my son was born.  I'm tired of apathy and complacency being labeled as "tolerance" for those that violate immigration laws.  I reported such persons, btw, and nothing was done by any authority figure whatsoever.

mccainiac
by on Mar. 31, 2009 at 7:21 PM

Her lawyer says she has medical issues? What a crock!!! She was photographed at the Inauguration!!! I wonder who payed for the airfare and lodging. The taxpayers?

 

SophiaofLight
by Member on Apr. 1, 2009 at 3:15 AM

No way. She is an illegal who was told by the judge to leave the country. Instead she gets public housing. I don't care if she is related to Obama. She should be deported right away.  

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