WASHINGTON (AP) - 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 (zay-TUH'-nee awn-YAHN'-goh) 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
Mike Rogers, a spokesman for Wong, said Onyango had not left the
country and had no plans to leave anytime soon.
Rogers said Onyango left Boston because of overwhelming media
"I think she just needed a reprieve," he said. He would not
reveal where she now lived other than to say she remained in the
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
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.