A jubilant Zeituni Onyango celebrated in South Boston today after learning a U.S. immigration court granted her asylum – a decision her neighbors speculated was probably helped by her nephew, President Obama.
“It’s obvious her nephew helped,” said neighbor Marion Swain. “She’s a very nice person – very well spoken. That’s life.”
“I don’t want to be disturbed,” said Onyango through the door of her public housing unit on L Street.
EMTs and cops were called to her apartment at about 2:30 this afternoon, but left without Onyango. The police did stay in the apartment with her after emergency responders left.
Onyango told a Herald reporter to call her attorney in Cleveland. “She’s the one who handles that problem,” she added of her immigration victory.
Onyango did order take-out food from the L Street Diner – leaving a $2 tip for an $8.55 order.
The ruling to allow Onyango to stay in the Hub was mailed Friday and comes three months after the half-sister of Obama’s late father testified at a closed hearing in Boston, where she arrived in a wheelchair. Two doctors testified in support of her case then.
The basis for her asylum request was never made public. People who seek asylum must show that they face persecution in their homeland on the basis of religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a social group.
“The asylum process is confidential and she wants to keep it that way, so we can’t get into details on why the judge granted asylum or the exact basis for her claim,” said her attorney Scott Bratton. He added: “She doesn’t want people to feel sorry for her.”
Another lawyer, Margaret Wong of Cleveland, said last year that Onyango first applied for asylum “due to violence in Kenya.” The East African nation is fractured by cycles of electoral violence every five years.
Wong told the Herald in February the president did not issue any remarks in support of his aunt at a hearing in Boston.
Medical issues also could have played a role. Onyango’s lawyers told the Herald she was disabled and was learning to walk again after being paralyzed from Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disorder.
Onyango moved to the United States in 2000. Her first asylum request was rejected, and she was ordered deported in 2004. But she didn’t leave the country and continued to live in Boston.
Onyango’s status as an illegal immigrant was revealed just days before Obama was elected in November 2008. Obama said he did not know his aunt was living here illegally and believes laws covering the situation should be followed.
A judge later agreed to suspend her deportation order and reopen her asylum case.
Obama spokesman Nick Shapiro said today that the White House had no involvement in the case at any point in the process.
In his memoir, “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance,” Obama affectionately referred to Onyango as “Auntie Zeituni” and described meeting her during his 1988 trip to Kenya.
Onyango helped care for the president’s half brothers and sister while living with Barack Obama Sr. in Kenya.
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