Obama’s uncle set to fight deportation

Same legal team helped sister stay

LEFT KENYA AS A YOUNG MAN Lawyer Scott Bratton says the case of 67-year-old Onyango Obama (left) has 'compelling humanitarian factors.' LEFT KENYA AS A YOUNG MAN
Lawyer Scott Bratton says the case of 67-year-old Onyango Obama (left) has "compelling humanitarian factors."
By Maria Sacchetti and John R. Ellement
Globe Staff / September 1, 2011

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President Obama’s uncle will fight deportation to his native Kenya, one of his lawyers said yesterday, because he has lived in the United States for nearly 50 years and now considers it his home.

Onyango Obama, 67, a half-brother of the president’s father, has turned to the same law firm that helped his younger sister, Zeituni Onyango, overturn a deportation order and win asylum in Boston last year.

Obama was last ordered deported in 1992, but he remained in the United States until Framingham police arrested him last week on drunken-driving and other charges.

“He does want to stay,’’ said Scott Bratton, who with lawyer Margaret Wong in Cleveland have taken on Obama’s case. “He’s just been here for such a long period of time. He hasn’t been to Kenya in forever. He was young when he came to the United States.’’

Bratton said the legal team is still piecing together the details of Obama’s case, and he did not know why the federal immigration courts ordered Obama to leave the country in 1992 - nor why he never left.

The details of Obama’s life that emerged this week trace his path from a fresh-faced young soccer star who charmed classmates at a Cambridge preparatory school in the 1960s to a high school dropout who would disappear into his own networks in Massachusetts. Obama then became a grown man who ran afoul of the Internal Revenue Service, federal immigration authorities, and finally, Framingham police.

With the help of his older brother, Barack Obama Sr. - the father of the future president - Obama arrived in the United States in 1963 to study at Browne & Nichols in Cambridge, according to a new book, “The Other Barack: The Bold and Reckless Life of President Obama’s Father,’’ by Globe reporter Sally H. Jacobs.

He dazzled classmates with his soccer skills, jovial demeanor, and tales of roaming the bush, but for reasons that are still unclear, he dropped out only two years later and enrolled in the Newton public schools.

By then, however, his older brother had returned to Kenya, and Obama was largely on his own, according to the book. He dropped out of school again and changed his name to O. Onyango Obama.

He appeared to lead a quiet life in Massachusetts until he ran afoul of the IRS beginning in the 1980s.

Obama owed the IRS a total of $3,876.52 for the tax years 1987 and 1988, according to a lien filed in the Middlesex South District Registry of Deeds in 1990. Later, the agency filed another lien targeting Obama under the name of Obama O. Onyango, saying he owed them $971.35 in taxes for the 1990 tax year. The registry has no record showing that Obama paid the bills.

Around the same time, Obama was grappling with immigration court.

A federal official said an immigration judge ordered Obama to leave the country in 1989, granting him voluntary departure, which allowed him to leave on his own instead of being deported. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the case.

But Obama never left and instead appealed his case to the Board of Immigration Appeals losing in 1992.

Bratton said Obama’s case has “compelling humanitarian factors,’’ including that he has not been to Kenya since he was a young man, and said the lawyers would try to help him remain in the United States.

“We’ll certainly work as hard as we can,’’ Bratton said.

Last year, the same firm helped his sister, Zeituni , overturn a deportation order and win asylum, which will allow her to one day apply for US citizenship. She had been living quietly in public housing in South Boston, in violation of a deportation order, until her immigration status was leaked to the media days before her nephew’s historic election victory in 2008.

The president’s late father and his Kenyan family were rarely in his life, though he had met many of his relatives, including his aunt, and wrote about them in his memoir, “Dreams from My Father.’’

The White House had no comment this week on Obama’s arrest.

Despite the deportation order, Obama continued to live, work, and drive in the United States. For the past five years, he worked at Conti Liquors in Framingham, where the owner praised his work ethic, though he noted that Obama inverted his names, calling himself Obama Onyango instead.

It is unclear when Obama obtained his Social Security number. The Social Security Administration has said it is possible for legal immigrants to obtain such numbers but did not respond to questions yesterday about what happens after someone is ordered deported.

Obama’s arrest stunned his former classmates at Browne & Nichols, who exchanged e-mails this week, wondering what had happened to their old friend, whom they knew as Omar Okech Obama.

He was the only African student at the small, rigorous school, where boys wore blazers and trim haircuts. He cut a striking figure on the soccer field, dazzling spectators with his fancy footwork, said Stephen D. Burgard, a former classmate of Obama’s at the school.

At the 45th reunion this year, many in the class of 1966 wondered what had become of Obama. In recent days, they were chagrined to find out, after police released the mug shot of his blank gaze and lined face.

“Most of us are asking ourselves on our e-mail group about this and are puzzled by what happened to him,’’ Burgard said.

Obama is being held on an immigration detainer in the Plymouth County House of Correction.

He has pleaded not guilty in Framingham District Court to charges of drunk driving, negligent operation, and failing to yield.

Globe correspondent Dan Adams contributed to this report. Maria Sacchetti can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @mariasacchetti.