Zeituni Onyango dies at 61; aunt of Obama gained asylum in U.S.

Zeituni Onyango, an aunt of President Obama whose bid for asylum in the United States received national attention during her nephew's first campaign for the presidency and contributed to the debate over illegal immigration, died Tuesday in Boston. She was 61.

Onyango had been treated in recent months for cancer and respiratory problems, said Cleveland attorney Margaret Wong, who represented Onyango in her immigration case.

A half sister of Obama's late father, Onyango moved from Kenya to the U.S. in 2000. She applied for asylum in 2002, citing health problems and fears of interethnic violence in Kenya. Her application was rejected in 2004 and she was ordered deported but remained in the country illegally, living in Boston public housing.

She finally was granted asylum in 2010 by a judge who said her relationship to Obama could place her in danger if she returned to Kenya. A spokesman for the Kenya government denied the allegations that she could be targeted if she was deported.

A member of the minority Luo tribe, Onyango was born under a mango tree in Kenya in May 1952 and was delivered by a midwife, Wong said. She raised a family in Kenya and worked in the computer department of Kenya Breweries.

Her presence in the U.S. became a campaign issue during Obama's first run for the presidency. Just days before his historic election as the country's first black president, a federal law enforcement official leaked information about her confidential case to the media, which led to widespread publicity. The White House had no immediate reaction to Onyango's death on Tuesday, but it previously said Obama had not intervened in Onyango's immigration case.

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. She helped care for his half brothers and sister while living with his father, Barack Obama Sr., in Kenya.


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