President Barack Obama's paternal aunt, Zeituni Onyango, is shown leaving federal immigration court at the John F. Kennedy building in downtown Boston this February. (Globe Staff/Photo Jonathan Wiggs)
A Boston immigration judge has granted asylum to President Barack Obama's aunt, Zeituni Onyango, clearing the way for her to stay in the United States and possibly to become a US citizen, her lawyers said today.
Immigration Judge Leonard I. Shapiro, after hearing closed-door testimony from the Kenyan native in February, granted her plea on Friday. Reached by telephone, Onyango referred questions to her lawyers.
"I'm tired," said Onyango, whose case caused a stir when it was revealed she had been living illegally in a South Boston public housing complex.
In Cleveland, Onyango's lawyers Margaret Wong and Scott Bratton said that now Onyango will be allowed to receive a work permit, a Social Security number, and a driver's license or state identification card. She must wait for one year to apply for legal permanent residency, or a green card, and five years to apply for US citizenship.
Onyango, who turns 58 this month, is the half-sister of Obama's late father, and she was featured in Obama's memoir, "Dreams from My Father." She had applied for political asylum in 2002, but a judge rejected her application in 2004 and told her to leave the country.
Instead, she lived quietly in the public housing project until it was revealed shortly before the 2008 election that she was here illegally. She quickly became a lightning rod in the national debate over illegal immigration.
After the publicity, she fled to Cleveland, hired Wong, and petitioned immigration judge to allow her to stay in the United States.
Shapiro agreed to reopen Onyango's case in December 2008.
In February, Wong said Onyango would testify that she should stay in this country because she suffers health problems and because she feared that she would become the target of tribal violence if she were forced to return to her homeland. Onyango suffers from Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disorder.
During that hearing, Shapiro heard five hours of testimony by Onyango and two physicians.
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