U.S. News

Judge extends Obama aunt's stay in United States

BOSTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama’s Kenyan aunt, who was ordered deported five years ago, can stay in the United States legally until next year when she makes a new asylum bid, an immigration judge ruled on Wednesday.

The issue of her immigration status flared three days before Obama was elected the first African-American president in the November 4, 2008 election. His late father was from Kenya and his white mother, also deceased, was American.

Zeituni Onyango, 56, whom Obama calls “Auntie Zeituni” in one of his memoirs, has been living in a public housing complex in Boston and is the half-sister of Obama’s father.

“The decision as to Ms. Onyango’s request to stay permanently in the U.S. will be made during a second hearing,” Michael Rogers, a spokesman for Onyango’s lawyer, Margaret

Wong, said in a statement.

The hearing on Wednesday was closed to the media. The next hearing is set for February 4, 2010.

Onyango first visited the United States in 1975 at age 23 and has traveled between Kenya and the United States several times since then, Rogers said.

In 2001 she received a U.S. Social Security card after proving she was in the United States legally and the following year she sought political asylum due to violence in Kenya. She applied to live in a public housing project in Boston.

A federal immigration judge rejected her asylum request in 2004, ordering her to leave the country. She remained in Boston.

Asylum seekers in the United States must show that they face persecution based on a number of factors including race, religion, nationality and political opinion.

Obama’s campaign said in November he had no knowledge of Onyango’s immigration status and that “any and all appropriate laws” should be followed in her case. His aides questioned the timing of the disclosure.

Her deportation order was eventually suspended in December when a motion to reopen the case was granted.

“The President believes that the case should run its ordinary course, and neither he nor his representatives have had any involvement,” White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said.

Reporting by Jason Szep; Editing by Paul Simao