Obama Unaware of Status of Aunt, Campaign Says
Responding to a report that a Kenyan relative of Senator Barack Obama was living in the United States illegally, his campaign on Saturday said that he had no knowledge of her immigration status and that “any and all appropriate laws” should be followed.
The woman, Zeituni Onyango, referred to as “Auntie Zeituni” in a passage in Mr. Obama’s memoir, applied for political asylum in the United States in 2004, but a federal immigration judge rejected her request and instructed her to leave the country, said a government official with knowledge of the case who asked not to be identified because of its sensitive nature. Ms. Onyango’s legal status was first reported by The Associated Press on Friday.
Ms. Onyango is the half-sister of Mr. Obama’s father and is part of an extensive network of paternal relatives with whom Mr. Obama has had limited contact, his aides said. Mr. Obama, who was largely raised by his maternal grandparents in a modest apartment in Honolulu, first met Ms. Onyango when he traveled to Africa as an adult.
On Saturday, David Axelrod, the chief strategist for Mr. Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, characterized the senator and Ms. Onyango as having “not a real close relationship.” Mr. Axelrod said it had been “years, not months,” since the two had spoken.
Ms. Onyango attended the ceremony when Mr. Obama was sworn in to the United States Senate in 2004, but campaign officials said he had provided no assistance in getting her a tourist visa and did not know the details of her stay. At the time of the ceremony, Ms. Onyango and another relative said in interviews that they had flown to the United States from Kenya to witness the moment. Mr. Obama last heard from her about two years ago when she called to say she was in Boston, but he did not see her there, the campaign said.
The reports about Ms. Onyango came on the last weekend of the hard-fought presidential campaign. Tucker Bounds, a spokesman for Senator John McCain, the Republican nominee, said his campaign had no comment.
Federal Election Commission records list a Zeituni Onyango on Orton Marotta Way in South Boston as making a series of contributions, totaling $265, to the Obama campaign, with the most recent contribution, $5, made on Sept. 19.
Mr. Obama’s campaign said the money was being refunded. It is illegal for foreign citizens and immigrants without green cards to make political donations. Aides said that the donations came through the normal channels, and that no one at the campaign knew that Ms. Onyango was related to Mr. Obama or of her immigration status.
The Times of London first reported on Thursday that Ms. Onyango lived in “modest circumstances” in public housing in Boston. On Friday, The A.P. reported that she was in the country illegally and that her case had led to an unusual nationwide directive from the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement requiring that any deportations before Tuesday’s election be approved at least at the level of regional directors.
Kelly A. Nantel, press secretary for the agency, said she could not comment on whether a special hold had been put on any deportations related to the election because it was “law enforcement sensitive.”
Ms. Onyango lives in a disabled-access apartment in South Boston, and worked as a volunteer resident health advocate for the Boston Housing Authority from December 2007 and August of this year, the Times of London reported.
On Saturday, a police officer was stationed outside the low brick public housing complex where Ms. Onyango lives. The officer said she was not at home and told reporters not to enter the building.
Several neighbors interviewed said they did not know Ms. Onyango and were surprised by the sudden attention to their modest complex on a narrow street in a mostly working-class neighborhood.