Obama’s aunt avoids all contact

Says she doesn’t want legal woes to cause trouble for him

Zeituni Onyango, who lives in Boston, is awaiting a February hearing on her immigration case. Zeituni Onyango, who lives in Boston, is awaiting a February hearing on her immigration case. (Josh Reynolds/ Associated Press)
By Rodrique Ngowi
Associated Press / December 2, 2009

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President Obama’s aunt buried her face in her hands and sobbed as she described her anguish over no longer having contact with him and his family since the revelation she had been living illegally for years in public housing.

Zeituni Onyango told the Associated Press that she is troubled that her immigration woes have made her a political liability to her nephew.

Onyango, the half sister of Obama’s late father, said she exiled herself from the family after attending Obama’s inauguration because she did not want to become fodder for Obama’s foes. The president and his family have not reached out to her, either, she said.

“Before, we were family. But right now, there is a lot of politics, and me, I am not interested in any politics at all,’’ said Onyango, whose appeal for asylum from her native Kenya is before an immigration judge in Boston.

The Obamas are her only family in the United States, she said.

“It is very sad when such a thing happens. There are people, outsiders, you know, they come in between, they divide a family,’’ she said last week. “It’s not easy.’’

Onyango, 57, is protective of Obama and said she never asked him to intervene in her case and did not tell him about her immigration difficulties.

“I carry my own cross,’’ she said. “He has nothing to do with my problem.’’

The White House said Obama has had no involvement in his aunt’s case and believes it should run its ordinary course.

Onyango helped care for the president’s half brothers and sister while living with Barack Obama Sr. in Kenya. She moved to the United States in 2000 and applied for asylum in 2002, but her request was rejected and she was ordered deported in 2004.

She did not leave the country and continued to live in public housing in Boston. She had been a health care volunteer, but not since her status became public. She refused to discuss how she affords to live or who is paying her attorney.

Onyango said she had no trouble visiting Obama when he was a state senator in Illinois or after he became a US senator, though she declined to discuss details. Her tiny apartment in a modest subsidized public housing complex for seniors and the disabled is adorned with photographs of her with Obama at the Illinois State House, the president’s official portrait, his family, the inauguration, her children, and African wildlife.

She is disabled and learning to walk again after being paralyzed for more than three months because of an autoimmune disorder, Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Her status as an illegal alien was revealed in October 2008, days before Obama was elected. Obama said he did not know his aunt was living in the United States illegally.

A judge agreed to suspend Onyango’s deportation order in December and reopened her asylum case. A hearing will be held in February.

Her attorney, Margaret Wong, said Onyango first applied for asylum because of violence in Kenya. People who seek asylum must show they face persecution in their homeland.

Immigration experts say Onyango’s relationship to the president could strengthen her claim that she would be subjected to danger at home.

Onyango declined to discuss her case.