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Americas

Obama's uncle gets US green card after 50-year wait

© Photo: AFP. Onyango Obama after his arrest in 2011.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-04

US President Barack Obama's Kenyan-born uncle, who ignored a deportation order more than two decades ago, was on Tuesday granted permission to stay in the United States as a lawful resident, 50 years after he arrived in the country.

A US immigration judge ruled on Tuesday that President Barack Obama's Kenyan-born uncle can stay in the US as a lawful resident, despite his decades of dodging deportation and a 2011 drunk-driving arrest.

Judge Leonard Shapiro made the decision after Onyango Obama, 69, testified that he had lived in the US for 50 years, been a hard worker, paid income tax and had been arrested only once.

Asked about his family in the US, he said he has a sister and two nieces, then added, “I do have a nephew”. Asked to name the nephew, he said, “Barack Obama,” then added, “He's the president of the United States”.

Onyango Obama arrived in the US in October 1963 on a student visa and has lived in the Boston region ever since, attorney Margaret Wong said in a statement.

Barack Obama's late father brought his brother to the US in order to send him to a private school, Wong said.

The Kenyan national was "extremely grateful for the privilege of receiving his green card after more than 50 years in the United States," she added.

He had a series of immigration hearings in the 1980s and was ordered to leave the country in 1992 but remained.

Drunk-driving arrest

Onyango Obama told the judge he had led a quiet, simple life, graduating from high school in Cambridge, then attending Boston University, where he received a degree in philosophy. He said he has worked for years as a manager at a family-owned liquor store in Framingham, just west of Boston. He also said he has worked for decades to help African immigrants find housing and settle in the US.

Obama said he hasn't been back to Kenya since he entered the US and said it would be difficult for him to return after so long.

“Mr. Judge, America is a land of opportunities, a land of chances,” he said in a thick accent.

His immigration status didn't become public until his 2011 drunk-driving arrest in Framingham. Police said after the arrest he told them, “I think I will call the White House”.

Asked about the exchange by a prosecutor on Tuesday, he said he might have said that but couldn't recall.

The charge was dismissed after he completed a year of probation and 14 weeks of alcohol education classes.

'A gentleman'

Shapiro said he considered testimony about Obama's character, including letters from people who praised him for being a “kind and decent person,” and also considered the drunk-driving charge and allegations of discrepancies in what he told immigration officials 20 to 30 years ago.

“He appears to me to be a gentleman,” Shapiro said.

Obama testified that President Obama stayed with him for three weeks in Cambridge while the president was a student at Harvard Law School.

“In our tradition, your brother's kids are your kids as well,” he said after the hearing.

Wong said he didn't receive any special treatment and was happy with the judge's decision.

If the government appeals, a notice must be filed within 30 days. Wong said Obama could get US citizenship after five years.

The White House had said it expected the case to be handled like any other.

In the president's memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” he writes about a 1988 trip to Kenya and refers to an Uncle Omar, who matches Onyango Obama's background and has the same date of birth.

Onyango Obama is the second Obama family member to be found living illegally in the US. His sister, Zeituni Onyango, the president's aunt, was granted asylum in 2010 after her first asylum request in 2002 was rejected and she was ordered to be deported in 2004.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)

Date created : 2013-12-04

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