President Obama’s paternal aunt recently passed away from cancer in Boston. Zeituni Onyango was the half-sister of the president’s father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was 61 years old when she died.
Onyango came to the U.S from Kenya in 2000. She was brought to America’s attention in 2008 after it was discovered that she was staying in the U.S. illegally after being denied asylum in 2004.
In 2010, she told Boston station WBZ-TV that she came to the U.S. from Kenya in 2000, but couldn’t afford to leave when she was denied asylum. She also lived in a homeless shelter for two years before being assigned public housing.
In 2010, she was finally granted asylum by an immigration judge. The judge believed she would be in danger if she returned to Kenya because of her famous nephew.
The president met Onyango during his 1988 trip to his ancestral homeland of Kenya. He referred to Onyango as Auntie Zeituni in his memoir Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.
Onyango raised a family in Kenya and worked in the computer department of Kenya Breweries. Her attorney, Margaret Wong, who represented her during her immigration cases, paid tribute to her. Wong also helped Onyango obtain a green card after the immigration hearings.
‘‘She was an awesome, funny, shrewd, smart lady born at the wrong place at the wrong time,’’ Wong said. ‘‘If she was only born in America or born in more Western open society instead of being bogged down by tribes, lineage and being a woman in Kenya, she could have been anything she wanted to be.’’
Even though Obama felt a kinship with Onyango and his Kenyan relatives, he has not had any connections to her immigration case. The president and the White House have not commented publicly on the case or about his aunt’s passing.