Obama’s Aunt Was Ruled at Risk

Maria Sacchetti, Boston Globe, August 17, 2010

The immigration judge who granted President Obama’s aunt asylum three months ago based his decision on the fact that an anonymous federal official had disclosed information about her immigration status to the media, a “reckless” act that exposed her to heightened threats of persecution in her native Kenya, according to the ruling, obtained yesterday by the Globe.

Although the grant of asylum to Zeituni Onyango in May was made public, the written decision detailing the reason for it was kept under wraps because of federal privacy laws. But the secrecy sparked accusations that she had received favorable treatment.

The decision was released yesterday through the Freedom of Information Act.

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Immigration Judge Leonard I. Shapiro, who presided over her deportation case in February, said a federal law enforcement official’s public revelations about her confidential case catapulted Onyango into the spotlight in a “highly publicized and highly politicized manner” just days before Obama’s historic election in November 2008. The publicity and her status as Obama’s aunt are the crux of his 29-page decision.

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The president has said he refused to intervene in the case. {snip}

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Days before the November 2008 election, an anonymous US official confirmed to the Associated Press that Onyango was here illegally because she had lost her asylum claim–a report that injected the volatile immigration debate into the final moments of the presidential election and raised questions about how an illegal immigrant managed to stay in public housing.

In December 2008, Onyango’s lawyers persuaded the immigration court to reconsider her request for asylum. They argued that news of her attempts to gain asylum in the past would render her a “traitor” in Kenya and that the media had singled her out as the “illegal immigrant aunt” of Obama.

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Shapiro agreed with Onyango’s assertion that she had been singled out for publicity and, unlike her relatives in Kenya, would be a “target.” He also outlined “serious interethnic conflict” that had consumed Kenya in recent years and resulted in hundreds of deaths. She belongs to the minority Luo ethnic group and said that she feared for her life if she had to return to Kenya.

In his ruling, Shapiro said Onyango’s testimony in February was sometimes confusing and inconsistent with what she said during her last quest for asylum six years ago. While Onyango did not prove that she suffered persecution while she lived in Kenya, he said he believed that her fear of future persecution was genuine.

He also acknowledged Onyango’s illegal status but did not hold it against her because there was no evidence that the federal government had ever pursued her deportation.

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