Obama's aunt might return to Kenya

June 3, 2009 4:54:18 PM PDT
President Barack Obama's aunt who is fighting to remain in the U.S. says she might or might not be heading to Kenya before her next deportation hearing. Such a trip could affect her immigration case. Zeituni Onyango has been living illegally in the U.S. for years. She told the Boston Globe on Wednesday that she would return to Kenya as soon as that evening, but then said she wasn't going. Even if she did leave, she said she planned to be in Boston for her immigration hearing on Feb. 4.

"I'll be there, God willing," Onyango, 57, told the Globe for a story posted on its Web site. "I don't know, I'm not a soothsayer. I leave everything to God."

If a person has an application or a petition for a benefit such as asylum, and that person leaves the country without notifying the federal government, the person is effectively abandoning the petition, a homeland security official told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak about a specific case.

Neither Onyango nor her immigration lawyer, Margaret Wong, could be reached by the AP. The White House declined to comment immediately.

Obama's step-grandmother, Sarah Obama, 87, told reporters in Kenya that Onyango would be returning there.

"How would she know?" Onyango told the Globe. "I don't want anybody to know whether I'm going to hell or heaven."

Sarah Obama made the statement during a visit by journalists from the International Reporting Project, said the group's director John Schidlovsky, who was traveling with the reporters. The group is associated with the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at The Johns Hopkins University and pays for reporters to travel internationally on prize-winning stories.

"What we heard was, Sarah Obama had spoken with her and that was her understanding," Schidlovsky said in a telephone interview from Kenya with the AP. He said Sarah Obama offered no details.

In April, a U.S. immigration judge in Boston set Onyango's case to be heard Feb. 4, giving her until at least next year to make her bid for asylum from her native Kenya. Onyango, 56, first 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.

Obama has said he did not know his aunt was living here illegally and believes laws covering the situation should be followed.

Onyango's status as an illegal alien was revealed just days before Obama was elected in November. After intense media coverage, Onyango left Boston and went to Cleveland to live with a relative.

In December, a judge agreed to suspend her deportation order and reopen her asylum case.

Onyango, the half-sister of Obama's late father, first moved to the United States in 2000.

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