Zeituni Onyango

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Zeituni Onyango
Born(1952-05-29) May 29, 1952 (age 61)
Home townSouth Boston, Massachusetts
ParentsHussein Onyango Obama, Sarah Obama[1]
Jump to: navigation, search
Zeituni Onyango
Born(1952-05-29) May 29, 1952 (age 61)
Home townSouth Boston, Massachusetts
ParentsHussein Onyango Obama, Sarah Obama[1]

Zeituni Onyango (/zˈtʌni ɔːˈnjɑːŋɡ/ zay-TUN-ee aw-NYAHNG-goh; born May 29, 1952)[2] is the half-aunt of United States President Barack Obama.[1][3][4] Onyango is the half-sister of Obama's late father Barack Obama, Sr.[4] She is referred to as "Aunti Zeituni" in Obama's memoir Dreams from My Father.[5]

In 2000, Onyango, a native of Kenya, came to the United States illegally and in 2002 sought political asylum in the United States citing violence: Kenya and East Africa have seen an escalation in violence in the 2000s.[6][7] Her case was denied in 2004 but she remained in South Boston, Massachusetts, and has since retained legal representation.[6] Her case was leaked in the final days of the 2008 U.S. presidential election in which Obama was the Democratic candidate.[8]

Her case became the subject of international media attention highlighting "the hot-button topic of illegal immigration into a race that has largely avoided it" and the contradictory rules governing public housing in Massachusetts.[8][9] It also sparked an investigation by the DHS as to how her case was leaked and added heightened administrative review on asylum deportations until after the 2008 general election.[8][9] Onyango's case is often cited in light of immigration reform efforts of the Obama administration.[10]


Onyango was working as a computer programmer at Kenya Breweries in Nairobi, when she first met Barack Obama during his first trip to Kenya in 1988.[1] Obama's father and Onyango's half-brother, Barack Obama, Sr., had left Obama and his mother when he was two, and was only known through the stories his mother and her parents told, and a month-long return visit eight years later.[11] Barack Obama, Sr. had remarried in Kenya and fathered about six children, then died in 1982. Obama's trip to Kenya was to meet the other half of his family.[11] In his memoir Dreams from My Father, Barack Obama, Jr. writes about his journey and meeting Onyango, referred to as "Aunti Zeituni".[5][12]

Onyango explained to Obama the significance of Obama's father being the first to fly in an airplane and study abroad; she also explained the complicated extended family on Obama's side from four marriages (two of them polygamous),[13] and his rise in government to senior economist in the Kenyan Ministry of Finance before conflict with President Kenyatta destroyed his career.[14][15] Barack Obama Sr. fathered six other sons and a daughter, in addition to Obama. All but one live in Britain or the United States as of 2010.[16]

United States immigration status[edit]

Onyango visited the United States multiple times since 1975, returning to Kenya each time until the 2000s.[9] She came on a temporary visa in 2000 along with a son who had been accepted at a college in Boston.[17] Commercial databases show she received a Social Security card in 2001, indicating she was legally present in the country at that time.[7]

Onyango was an asylum seeker when she applied for public housing in 2002.[1][6] She moved into the apartment, run by Massachusetts authorities, after back surgery made walking difficult.[6] A BHA official said that the agency was never notified of a deportation order that had been issued[18] (A 1977 federal consent decree, resulting from a class action lawsuit in Waltham, prohibits state officials from denying public housing to illegal immigrants).[6][19] Beginning in 2003 she lived in a South Boston public housing project, according to Boston Public Housing Authority (BHA) officials.[3] William McGonagle, deputy director of the Authority, stated Onyango did a good job as a public health advocate on behalf of the Boston Housing Authority.[3][20] Described as a frail woman who walks with a cane, she lives in flat normally set aside for people facing physical hardship.[1]

As of 2008 Onyango worked as a volunteer computer systems co-ordinator for the Experience Corps, a program in which adults over 55 mentor children in their communities.[1] McGonagle added "We have no affirmative responsibility I am aware of to further check on their status after they are initially deemed to be eligible."[21]

Onyango's immigration lawyer since 2008, Margaret Wong, stated Onyango could be barred from reentering for up to ten years if she left the US now.[22] Wong stated that Onyango needed to stay for medical care because she could not walk.[22]

Onyango was granted political asylum in 2010. Interviewed for the first time since then, in September 2010, by reporter Jonathan Elias on WBZ-TV in Boston, she described living in a homeless shelter for two years in Boston while waiting for her public housing apartment. She said she receives disability checks of up to $700 a month. She made no apologies for overstaying her visa.[23][24]

"I don't mind," she said. "You can take that house. I can be on the streets with homeless people. I didn't ask for it. They gave it to me. Ask your system. I didn't create it or vote for it. Go and ask your system."

—Zeituni Onyango, WBZ-TV, September 21, 2010 reported and quoted from the WBZ-TV interview[23]

Political background[edit]

In 2002 Onyango applied for political asylum in the United States citing violence in Kenya; a federal immigration judge eventually rejected the request and instructed her to leave the country.[7][25] Joan Friedland, a lawyer and immigration policy director at the National Immigration Law Center in Washington noted that even though an immigration judge makes a decision other options exist for a claimant.[6]

Onyango and the Obama family are members of the Luo tribe, Kenya's third-largest (12%) ethnic group.[12][26][27] Kenya has seen "longtime ethnic tension between the Luo and Kikuyu"; the Kikuyu are the most populous tribe accounting for approximately 22% of the country's people.[28][29]

Tensions between the Luo and the Kikuyu can be traced to the mid-1960s post-independence period when a bitter falling out between the president (a Kikuyu) and his Vice President Jaramogi Odinga (a Luo) resulted in a "sustained political persecution of the Luo" who remain one of Kenya's most marginalised groups.[30] Kenya's current prime minister and former opposition leader, Raila Odinga, is also of the Luo tribe. He is Jaramogi Odinga's son and has claimed to be related to the Obamas.[31][32]

Odinga serves as Prime Minister of Kenya with president Mwai Kibaki (a Kikuyu) in a coalition government. Throughout the 2000s, Kenya and East Africa have seen widespread ethnic violence including killings,[9][33][34] and the displacement of thousands.[35][36][37]

In 2002 the National Rainbow Coalition won political control of Kenya but the country remained politically unstable with alleged electoral manipulation which was widely confirmed by international observers in the 2007 elections.[38][39] The political fallout from the 2007 election resulted in a country-wide economic and humanitarian crisis.

The American Prospect noted Onyango's chances of being persecuted and tortured or that family members could be similarly mistreated, whether or not she's deported, had increased as a result of her case being leaked and widely publicized.[29] They also noted that due to the heightened danger her asylum claim was bolstered.[29] When her case was revealed in international media she fled from her home to stay with friends in Cleveland, Ohio; she felt threatened with people calling and knocking on her door at all hours.[17] The Boston police said that there was a problem with curiosity seekers and paparazzi.

Immigration status[edit]

Onyango became the subject of widespread and international media attention in the final week of the 2008 U.S. presidential election in which Obama was the Democratic candidate. The impetus for the scrutiny was an article by the Associated Press, based on anonymous government sources, which reported that Onyango was living in the United States without valid immigration status, after being asked by an immigration judge to leave the country.

Although such an order from a judge can be appealed, it is not known if Onyango appealed the order.[40] Onyango was an illegal immigrant.

Onyango's case resulted in a special nationwide directive within Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requiring any deportations to be approved at the level of ICE regional directors before the U.S presidential election. In discussing Onyango's case, various media outlets have discussed some of the issues of immigrants, including political asylum cases.

MSNBC's Domenico Montanaro noted that thousands of people live for years in the US after receiving deportation orders.[41] "Fugitive apprehension teams usually target suspects with criminal records before they go after simple immigration violators".[41]

Of an estimated ten million illegal immigrants, The Washington Post noted that an estimated 550,000 persons that have been denied asylum continue to reside in the United States.[42][43]

Political donation[edit]

Onyango illegally contributed money to Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. It is illegal for foreign citizens and/or immigrants without green cards to make political donations. The campaign stated they would return the donations regardless of her status to avoid any appearance of wrongdoing.[4][44] One of the six commissioners of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), Ellen Weintraub, stated she was unsure if the agency – charged with administering and enforcing finance statutes that govern the election – had any mechanism to prevent contributions from foreign nationals.[45] Weintraub stated donors are not required to furnish the FEC with Social Security Numbers and the two major parties have large opposition research departments to look for irregularities including "foreign-sounding names".[45]

Legality regarding release of information[edit]

The Washington Post noted federal privacy law restricts the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from disclosing information about citizens and permanent residents, and DHS policy limits disclosures about immigrant's status.[46] Asylum seekers are granted greater protection from release of information to the public, because of the sensitive nature of their claims and the risks of retaliation.[46] In a statement, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said the matter has been referred to the agency's Office of Professional Responsibility and its parent department's inspector general.[46] "They are looking into whether there was a violation of policy in publicly disclosing individual case information", ICE spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said. "We can't comment on individual cases."[40]

Waiver of deportation granted[edit]

Zeituni Onyango was granted a waiver of deportation on May 17, 2010 by the United States and is currently a legal resident.[47] Immigration Judge Leonard I. Shapiro granted Zeituni Onyango, her lawyers Margaret Wong and Scott Bratton, and her two doctors an extended hearing which lasted five hours. At the end Shapiro granted her legal residency and permission to work in the United States.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Barack Obama's aunt found living in rundown public housing estate[dead link]
  2. ^ "AP pronunciatin guide". Pr-inside.com. Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c "For Obama Aunt, a Quiet South Boston Life". Voices.washingtonpost.com. Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c "First read, MSNBC". Firstread.msnbc.msn.com. October 31, 2008. Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "Boston Housing Authority 'flabbergastered' Barack Obama's aunt living in Southie". Bostonherald.com. October 31, 2008. Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Sacchetti, Maria (November 4, 2008). "BHA takes heat for housing Obama's aunt". Boston Globe. Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  7. ^ a b c STAR-ADVERTISER. "Disclosure about Obama's aunt may have broken federal law". Honoluluadvertiser.com. Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  8. ^ a b c Adams, Guy (November 3, 2008). "Obama's aunt the focus of visa scandal". The Independent (London). Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  9. ^ a b c d "Obama didn't know his aunt was in U.S. illegally; says all laws should be followed". Daily News (New York). November 2, 2008. Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  10. ^ "Bush admin. makes immigration strides in 2008"[dead link]
  11. ^ a b "Obama's extraordinary journey"[dead link]
  12. ^ a b "I learned to slip back and forth between my black and white worlds"[dead link]
  13. ^ D'Souza, Dinesh (September 27, 2010). "How Obama Thinks". Forbes. p. 86. Retrieved September 20, 2010. "[Barack Obama Sr.] was a polygamist who had, over the course of his lifetime, four wives and eight children." 
  14. ^ ''The Obama Nation''. Google Books. August 31, 1946. Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  15. ^ Scott Fornek (September 9, 2007). "Barack Obama Sr.: Wrestling with ... a Ghost". The Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved September 26, 2008. 
  16. ^ "Ancestry of Barack Obama". Genealogy.about.com. Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  17. ^ a b "Barack Obama's aunt, Zeituni Onyango, is living in Cleveland". Cleveland.com. Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  18. ^ Herald, Boston (November 5, 2008). "Obama aunt not seen in recent days". News.bostonherald.com. Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  19. ^ Herald, Boston (November 2, 2008). "Boston Housing Authority: Aunt Zeituni OK by federal rules: Barack Obama kin part of law loophole". News.bostonherald.com. Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  20. ^ "Obama's aunt 'in the US illegally'"[dead link]
  21. ^ Herald, Boston (November 2, 2008). "Boston Housing Authority: Aunt Zeituni OK by federal rules". News.bostonherald.com. Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  22. ^ a b "Barack Obama's 'Auntie Zeituni' cannot walk, says lawyer"[dead link]
  23. ^ a b Ho, Vivian, "Obama's aunt says 'system' was at fault", The Boston Globe, September 21, 2010
  24. ^ Elias, Jonathan, "Aunt Zeituni: 'The System Took Advantage Of Me': President Obama's Aunt Speaks Exclusively With WBZ-TV", WBZ-TV, Boston, September 21, 2010
  25. ^ Harris, Gardiner (November 1, 2008). "Obama Was Unaware of Aunt's Status, Aides Say". The New York Times. Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  26. ^ Gaston, Bruno, "'Nilotic' Link Places Obama's Roots in Southern Sudan", Redding News Review, Atlanta, September 3, 2008
  27. ^ "In Kenya, Obama Win Sparks Celebration". Npr.org. November 5, 2008. Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  28. ^ CIA Factbook [1] Retrieved October 16, 2007
  29. ^ a b c Serwer, Adam. "The Danger Facing Zeituni Onyango". Prospect.org. Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  30. ^ Mutiga, Murithi (November 5, 2008). "Why Kenya's pride in Obama victory is tempered". The Independent (London). Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  31. ^ "Raila Odinga claims Obama is his cousin", BBC News, 1/8/08.
  32. ^ Some Kenyans forget crisis to root for Obama, Reuters, 1/8/08.
  33. ^ "Al Jazeera English – News – Kenya Ethnic Clashes Intensify". 2008. Retrieved February 24, 2008. 
  34. ^ "Kenya police in 'shoot to kill' row", Al Jazeera, January 13, 2008.
  35. ^ Font size Print E-mail Share 5 Comments (February 11, 2008). "U.N.: 600,000 Displaced In Kenya Unrest". Cbsnews.com. Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  36. ^ "Kenya opposition cancels protests". BBC News. January 7, 2008. Retrieved February 24, 2008. 
  37. ^ "Kibaki offer on unity government", BBC News, January 5, 2008.
  38. ^ "Kenya rivals agree to share power". BBC News. February 28, 2008. Retrieved March 1, 2008. 
  39. ^ "Kenya's election seen as badly flawed". Reuters. September 18, 2008. Retrieved October 29, 2008. 
  40. ^ a b View all comments that have been posted about this article. (November 2, 2008). "Disclosure About Obama's Aunt May Have Violated Privacy Policy". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  41. ^ a b "Obama: Ice, Ice, Baby". Firstread.msnbc.msn.com. November 2, 2008. Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  42. ^ "Family storm aside, Barack Obama feels wind of change"[dead link]
  43. ^ Hsu, Spencer S.; Rakowsky, Judy (November 2, 2008). "Disclosure About Obama's Aunt May Have Violated Privacy Policy". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 30, 2011. 
  44. ^ Gardiner Harris (November 1, 2008). "Obama Unaware of Status of Aunt, Campaign Says". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). Retrieved November 1, 2008. 
  45. ^ a b "FEC Commissioner 'Doesn't Know' If Analysts Can Catch Foreign Contributions"[dead link]
  46. ^ a b c Hsu, Spencer S.; Rakowsky, Judy (November 2, 2008). "Disclosure About Obama's Aunt May Have Violated Privacy Policy". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 30, 2011. 
  47. ^ Milton J. Valencia (May 17, 2010). "Boston Globe: Obama's aunt given OK to stay in U.S". Boston Globe. Retrieved March 30, 2011.