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Obama’s uncle quietly released from jail

ONYANGO OBAMA ONYANGO OBAMA
By Maria Sacchetti
Globe Staff / September 9, 2011

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Officials released President Obama’s uncle from Plymouth County jail yesterday after holding him for more than two weeks on an immigration detainer for violating an order to return to his native Kenya in 1992.

US officials refused to disclose any other information about Onyango Obama, who remained in the United States undetected until Framingham police arrested him Aug. 24 on drunken driving and other charges.

Yesterday, federal immigration officials refused to say whether the 67-year-old Framingham resident posted bond, whether they are keeping track of his whereabouts, or even whether they are still seeking his deportation, raising questions about public accountability in the case.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement website confirmed Obama’s release by listing him as “not in custody.’’

Although the website confirmed it, Brian P. Hale, an agency spokesman, said he would not comment on the case because privacy laws and the agency’s policies prohibit it. He said the database is accurate, however.

As a result of the immigration agency’s refusal to discuss the case, it is unclear what happened to Obama after he left the Plymouth County House of Correction - or whether he could be returned to jail.

An official at the Plymouth County House of Correction who would not give his name said yesterday afternoon that Obama was no longer in custody. He had been taken to Burlington, where US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has offices, he said.

In Framingham, the people who shared a modest frame house with Obama on a residential street said they did not know where he was. A co-worker at Conti Liquors, where Obama worked, said they had not heard of his release.

His Cleveland lawyers, Margaret Wong and Scott Bratton, were unavailable for comment, and an assistant said they had not been notified that he was released.

Onyango Obama was the half-brother of the president’s late father. At the time of his arrest, Obama allegedly told Framingham police, “I think I will call the White House’’ to arrange bail.

But last week the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said the president did not expect his uncle to receive special treatment.

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors tougher limits on immigration, said the immigration agency should be more transparent, especially in a case involving a relative of the president. She said the public deserves to know the circumstances of Obama’s release, since he violated a deportation order and is accused of drunken driving. In a criminal court, she said, that would be public information.

Obama pleaded not guilty in Framingham District Court to charges of drunken driving, negligent operation, and failing to yield.

“This whole nonsense about privacy is a policy,’’ Vaughan said. “It’s not the law. It’s a choice that [the immigration agency] is making. I think it’s very cowardly on [the agency’s] part, to be honest. Their behavior shows that they don’t want to be accountable to anybody.’’

Obama is the second relative from the president’s distant paternal side to have violated immigration law. Onyango Obama’s younger sister, Zeituni Onyango, violated a deportation order and lived quietly in Boston public housing until days before her nephew’s historic election in 2008, when her illegal status was leaked to the media. Based in part on the leak, and her increased exposure, a Boston immigration judge granted her asylum last year.

Onyango Obama came to America in 1963 to attend a prestigious preparatory school in Cambridge but dropped out and was initially ordered to leave the country in 1989. He appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, but lost in 1992.

Earlier this month, Bratton said Obama would fight deportation and hoped to remain in the United States. Obama has lived here for almost 50 years, since he was a young man under the limited supervision of the president’s late father.

Obama had worked for the past five years at Conti Liquors in Framingham, where he was praised as a good worker and beloved employee.

Maria Sacchetti can be reached at msacchetti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @mariasacchetti. Kathleen Burge of the Globe staff contributed to this report.