x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Obama 'did not know' aunt's illegal status

Barack Obama says he did not know his aunt from Kenya was living in the United States illegally.

CHICAGO // The Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama said yesterday he did not know his aunt from Kenya was living in the United States illegally and believes that laws covering the situation should be followed. Reporters found that Mr Obama's aunt had been instructed to leave the country four years ago by an immigration judge who rejected her request for asylum from her native Kenya. The woman, Zeituni Onyango, is living in public housing in Boston and is the half-sister of Mr Obama's late father. A statement given by Mr Obama's campaign said, "Senator Obama has no knowledge of her status but obviously believes that any and all appropriate laws be followed." Travelling with Mr Obama in Nevada, the campaign strategist David Axelrod declined to elaborate on the statement, but said: "I think people are suspicious about stories that surface in the last 72 hours of a national campaign." An adviser to Republican John McCain's campaign, Mark Salter, said he had no comment on the reports about Mr Obama's relative. "It's a family matter," Mr Salter said. Rudy Giuliani, campaigning for Mr McCain in Henderson, Nevada, said that Mr Obama's aunt should be off limits in the campaign. "I don't think families should be hounded," he said. "I don't think Barack Obama has anything to do with a relative being here illegally." The Obama campaign said it was returning $260 that Ms Onyango had contributed in small increments to his presidential bid over several months. Federal election law prohibits foreigners from making political donations. Ms Onyango listed her employer as the Boston Housing Authority and last gave $5 on Sept 19 2008. Ms Onyango, 56, is part of Obama's large paternal family, with many related to him by blood whom he never knew growing up. Mr Obama's father, Barack Obama senior, left the future presidential nominee when the boy was two years old, and they reunited only once - for a month-long visit when Mr Obama was 10. The elder Mr Obama lived most of his life in Kenya, where he fathered six other sons and a daughter with three other wives. He died in a car crash in 1982. Mr Obama was raised for the most part by his mother and her parents in Hawaii. He first met his father's side of the family when he travelled to Africa 20 years ago. He referred to Ms Onyango as "Auntie Zeituni" when describing the trip in his memoir, saying she was "a proud woman." Mr Obama's campaign said he had seen her a few times since that meeting, beginning with a return trip to Kenya with his future wife, Michelle, in 1992. Ms Onyango visited the family in Chicago on a tourist visa at Mr Obama's invitation about nine years ago, the campaign said, stopping to visit friends on the East Coast before returning to Kenya. She attended Mr Obama's swearing-in to the US Senate in 2004, but campaign officials said Mr Obama provided no assistance in getting her a tourist visa and does not know the details of her stay. The campaign said he last heard from her about two years ago when she called saying she was in Boston, but he did not see her there. Ms Onyango's refusal to leave the country would represent an administrative, noncriminal violation of immigration law, meaning such cases are handled outside the criminal court system. Estimates vary, but many experts believe there are more than 10 million such immigrants in the US. When a reporter went to her home on Friday night, no one answered the door. A neighbour said she was often not home on weekends. Ms Onyango did not immediately return telephone and written messages left at her home. Ms Onyango was instructed to leave the country by a US immigration judge who denied her asylum request, said a person familiar with the matter. This person spoke on condition of anonymity because no one was authorised to discuss Ms Onyango's case. It was unclear why her request was rejected in 2004.