Obama's Aunt Is "Illegal"

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Two days ago, on October 30, the London Times reported that Barack Obama's Kenyan aunt, Zeituni Onyango, was living in public housing in Boston.   This Saturday morning, the Associated Press reported that Onyango is an unauthorized migrant. 

Nativist bloggers are already foaming at the mouth.  Michelle Malkin has highlighted a typical nativist comment, capital letters and all:

Obama's aunt is here ILLEGALLY living in poverty, and is a deportation FUGITIVE. She's collecting WELFARE and has DONATED to Obama's campaign, ILLEGALLY! Obama. Family in poverty as he makes millions. Complete lawlessness. Giveaway your hard earned tax payer money to illegal fugitives. CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN.
Ace of Spades - Commenter (1 November 2008)
Is it even possible for nativists to make an argument without using ALL CAPS?  Nativists want you believe that Onyango's immigration status makes her a criminal.  Not true.
The Associated Press explains:

Onyango's refusal to leave the country would represent an administrative, non-criminal violation of U.S. immigration law, meaning such cases are handled outside the criminal court system. Estimates vary, but many experts believe there are more than 10 million such immigrants in the United States.
Associated Press - Eileen Sullivan and Elliot Spagat (1 November 2008)
Like at least 40% of unauthorized migrants in the U.S., Onyango is in violation of civil law, not criminal law, with regards to to her immigration status.  Nativists yell the words, "ILLEGAL", and "AMNESTY", until they're blue in the face to try and make you believe that all unauthorized migrants are criminals  The truth is that most unauthorized migrants are guilty of violating the same type of law that speeding is classified under.  I don't see nativists using the words "ILLEGAL DRIVER" to describe everyone on the freeway that speeds.

There are additional legal complications in Onyango's case.  Nativists are jumping all over the fact that she's living in public housing, and that she has allegedly donated money to the Obama campaign.  I'm not an immigration lawyer, and cannot comment on the additional complications of Onyango's legal situation.  The U.S. immigration system is broken and complicated.  The only thing anyone who is not a U.S. immigration lawyer can truly know about U.S. immigration law, is that they don't know anything at all.

I know a lot of nativists are going to be enraged at the Onyango's alleged violations, but I'm going to ask everyone to take a step back from all of this.  What if "ILLEGAL ALIEN", "WELFARE", and "ILLEGAL CAMPAIGN DONATIONS", weren't the first things you heard about Onyango?  Imagine instead, that you had read this profile of Onyango in the Boston Globe:

Onyango... is paid a small stipend for working as a health advocate in her housing complex.


For three years, she was a volunteer with Experience Corps, a nonprofit that trains adults over 55 to work with children in public schools, said Mary Gunn, the group's executive director.

In a profile on the Experience Corps website, Onyango is described as a "former computer systems coordinator" who says she wanted to volunteer in the schools because "I felt that I should help the children in my community."

"I love people and enjoy interacting with them," Onyango said. "Also, I was idle, and this was a chance to get involved."

Gunn said Onyango is a wonderful person, but said, "Zeituni wishes for me not to comment, and I want to honor her wish."
Michael Levenson - Boston Globe (31 October 2008)

Read that passage carefully.  Now, I can't personally vouch for Onyango.  I know far too little about her.  From what little information there is though, it seems to me Onyango is an amazing person.  She's not a wealthy person, but still she dedicates her time to helping her community. 

In a country that refuses to recognize her as a real person, she has still chosen an occupation where she assists her community.  To reiterate, she has dedicated years to bettering a community in which nativists don't even believe she has a right to exist  If you think about it, from what little information we have, everything that nativists have pointed to that is bad about Onyango stems from the fact that she had the misfortune of being born into a different country, and had the audicity to seek a better life for herself in the U.S.  Nativists will call Onyango an "ILLEGAL ALIEN" but I thought the principles the U.S. was founded on state that the "pursuit of happiness" is an "inALIENable right." 

Nativists will use this association to smear Obama's character, to make him "an other."  As is typical, nativists hope to divide the U.S. rather than bring it together.  The fact that Obama's aunt is an unauthorized migrant doesn't make him "an other."  It makes him one of the millions of U.S. citizens, and legal U.S. residents, with a family member that has been affected by an atrocious U.S. immigration system. 

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, there are 3.1 million U.S. citizen children with unauthorized migrant parents.  That doesn't even count the many millions more that have aunts, brothers, and cousins, who nativists like to label "illegal."  The fact of the matter is that the U.S. is a country where families sit united around the table and are divided by their immigration status: A child who is a U.S. citizen, a father who is a legal migrant, a mother who is unauthorized, is just one of the many typical arrangements that so many U.S. residents find themselves in. 

The U.S. Latin@ community understands this and that's why they're voting overwhelmingly in favor of Obama.  Not since slavery has it been legal and acceptable in the U.S. to give completely different sets of rights to different sets of people in the U.S.  The pro-migrant side has been losing the U.S. migration debate because for the longest time advocates assumed this was a rational policy debate. 

The U.S. migration debate is not a debate about policy.  It's a culture war. It's a debate about what fundamental question of what it means to be an "American."  Nativists have usually have a racist definition of the word "American."  It's up to the good people to stand up and say that the U.S. is a tolerant nation, and that we won't stand for the hate that seeks to dehumanize the millions of unauthorized migrants in the U.S. whose only sin is to seek a better life for themselves and their children.

UPDATE: Don't let nativists define this story.  Leave a pro-migrant comment on Digg (see next update) and help me out on Daily Kos.

UPDATE II: Aa I'm so angry at myself.  I've been telling people to go to the wrong place on Digg.  Go here.  It might be too late already.

UPDATE III: The Sanctuarysphere Responds:

A Dream Deferred
Culture Kitchen

UPDATE IV: Read my new post.

digg | | delish


RicTresa said:

Ohh I am soooo tired of these haters. This story just broke today and the wingnut/racist/haters are already running down the field being chased by their rabid dogs. I went to the ace of spades website and what a bunch of loons I did find!

You know? As tough as it is to get Citizenship, (the testing and stuff you have to learn) I would bet that very few of these, "legal" Americans would be able to pass themselves. As if a test makes a person an American.

To me an American is a person that has compassion for his or her fellow citizens, legal or otherwise. Aren't we all the same? We all bleed red despite the color of our skins.

This information about Obama's Aunt was leaked and it was a political act. Pure and simple. Up until it is looking like Obama is going to take this election nobody, (and I mean NOBODY) gave a big rat's behind about this lady, whether she was legal or not. None of these, "holier than thou" fanatics cared whether she lived or died. I suspect they didn't care if she was legal or illegal.. Now though, the OUTRAGE!

What people should be outraged about is how somebody stuck their nose into the facts of another citizen's life.. dug around until they could find something, (that may or not be true) and then leaked it to the press for political gain.

It reminds me when Bush leaked the CIA stuff to get back at the guy for saying the Iraq war was a lie. And I bet you a shiny new penny, he had something to do with this leak as well.

Back on the subject though, everybody is so gleeful to over look ALL the good that this woman has done and instead advance the lie that she is a criminal purely as an avenue to prove a couple of points in their, (favor?)

1. That Obama is an elitist.. Because he has left his poor old aunt in poverty while he lives the high life.

2. That he is somehow a criminal because his aunt is a criminal, hiding out, (in plain sight) from the immigration thugs and he has over looked the whole situation.

Ohh it all makes me so angry! Back a 100 years ago these same people were the first ones to yell, "get a rope" when some poor soul was accused of a trumped up crime.

There is an old saying, "God will get ya for that!" Some of these very folks should take it to heart because they are on his hit parade.

Sorry for the long post, I couldn't help myself.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:


People like yourself give me hope.

Will C said:

C.O., thanks for this great post! I agree with your take on the situation. It's interesting how the anti-Obama campaign keeps trying to link him to "unsavory characters", as if his auntie is such a person just by being undocumented (his father's HALF sister at that!).

But what bothers me is how this confidential information was released three days before the election! Someone has been sitting on this to get it out at the "right" time. Apparently Rep. John Conyers of Michigan wrote to Homeland Security to find out how this happened. I wonder if this could become the new Valerie Plame scandal (the last time that the Bush Administration released secret information to embarrass a critic).

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

I hear you Will C.,

I personally don't think it was a smear. I think people just didn't connect two and two, and when the London Times identified where Obama's aunt lived, it came out that she was unauthorized.

I have no issue with the way you specifically put it Will C. I think that's the message. In general though this "progressive" tone that having an unauthorized migrant relative is somehow a smear is, in-effect, nativist, to me. That's the way the blogosphere and the media seems to be playing out out though. The debate has devolved into one of Republican nativism and Democrats either describing this as smear or running as far away from this as they can. If having an undocumented relative is a smear, than smear me too.

Will C said:

kyledeb, I think we're still saying the same thing: It's a failed attempt at a (nativist) smear. Having an undocumented relative is not a smear in reality: most Americans don't even understand "mixed status" families.

My question is how did the London Times find the aunt? I'm not convinced it was accidental that they found her AND that she was undocumented. This far too "juicy" for some folks to be accidental.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

I think we're coming from the same place on this, Will. With others. I'm not so sure.

PL said:

I am not a smear :)

Thanks for the post Kyle...

Truly saddened/disappointed by this.

RicTresa said:

See.. here is the deal for me. Until recently, I never gave the issue of legal or illegal immigrants much thought. I grew up with parents that taught me to think of everyone as my equal and I have tried to do that. It wasn't until this summer when a long time friend, (30 years) in CA started sending me these emails about how terrible his life had become because of the illegal latinos, (they were stealing his job and were committing all the crime..) And it bothered me because he was sounding like a racist and I told him just that.

He didn't like it much and he began really sending me junk on the subject but what he didn't count on was the fact that it made me want to find out the truth of it.. It was my search for this truth that brought me to Citizen Orange and The Sanctuary.

I was taught there is always two sides to a story and what I have learned about the plight of the immigrants is that it is no picnic. All these folks want is what we all want and that is to live free, make a wage, have a family and just feel safe. It isn't to much to ask.

But to get this they are preyed on by any number of scum along the way. Scum in their own country and then scum in my country. Dis honest employers who work them like slaves, telling them if they didn't watch out the employer would turn them in to ICE, just to keep them in line and to add to the employer's bottom line. Then the ICE thugs show up, and lock them up, splitting up families by deporting folks away from their children and husbands or wives.. sending them back to the hell they were trying to escape from in the first place. Forcing them to repeat the cycle all over again, if they are lucky or to die trying, if they aren't.

This to me is totally wrong and it bothers me to know it is happening because this is America and we are all made up of immigrants, in one form or another. It's what America is supposed to be about and it was at one time. I believe it could be again but not without people standing up and saying, "Stop! No more.."

People like those idiots on the, Ace of Spades website spew words like, criminal and illegal but make no attempt to find out the truth of it or look for the flip side of the story, and THAT is the problem. Kyle posted the Boston Globe link that allowed me to see the flip side.

Obama's aunt isn't a criminal she has done more for her community than most legal residents do in a lifetime if at all yet she is considered a criminal because she may not have a green card. The main problem is the media. They are to quick to post half a story. They point a finger of innuendo and then never post the truth of the matter. They just let people form their own opinions from what they think the story is or in the case of my now ex friend they are influenced by racists and haters. The media knows this is going to happen and they don't seem to care.

It sells papers, humanity be damned. It's wrong and it has to be changed.

Sorry Kyle looks like I have written a book again, but I get rolling and I just have to say what's in my heart and conscience. Sometimes this takes up quite a little bit of space.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:


Don't ever apologize for commenting here. I just more people would seek out this perspective as you have. We have a long fight ahead of us before migrants are respected so don't get discouraged. I'm glad to have gotten in touch with you.

Soyfly said:

People in the US need to realize we are part of a global community -- a world where most human beings live in poverty, often directly due to US economic and military policies. It is shameful to deny the ways we are interconnected, how US trade or economic globalization has fueled migration. No human being is "illegal" -- it should not be a crime to come to a place to survive and make a living; to contribute to your community!

Onyango is a wonderful woman who has selflessly dedicated herself to helping those in her community whom many of our country's own "fellow" citizens care little about. What is "wrong" or "criminal" about that? She is no more an "absconder" than anyone who has ever gotten a parking ticket or smoked weed is a hardened criminal.

It is really sad how Obama has had to renounce her and throw her under a bus, to the brutal machinations of immigration detention, enforcement, and uprooting -- a humble woman, a poor woman, and a caring woman, who also happens to have been his fan. Even if it's not completely his personal fault, but the larger forces he is stuck in -- this cold political frame denies a little bit of her humanity, a little bit of her dignity.

Only the Green Party Presidential ticket of Cynthia McKinney & Rosa Clemente proposes a fair immigration reform. They support justice for immigrant workers; changing the economic, trade, and military policies that fuel poverty and migration. They oppose guest worker programs as riddled with abuses, and support a path to legalization for undocumented people. They want to repeal NAFTA, and strongly supports workers rights. Overall, they best Nader on this one.

Anyone in the immigrant rights movement should consider this article:
"Support Obama & Vote McKinney? Not a contradiction.
The women of color running for President & Vice President."

McKinney / Clemente all the way!

yon said:

For the fairness sake, let’s make negative assumptions for both sides: Obama and Sarah. Obama knew all along about his aunt’s illegal status, and Sarah intentionally pressured the Trooper Chief to fire her ex-brother-in-law.

Let’s say Obama did something about her status as a Senator, he would be criticized by political opponents for abusing his power for personal matters clouding his political future because there would be a clear document proving his involvement. His other choice would be what he has just done -keeping distance from her and pretend he knows nothing. His Kenyan aunt just couldn't benefit his political ambitions anyway and yet he could use her story in the book to propel his political goal and even make money. When her situation comes into light, he says to the public, "Ok, deport her!"

That's similarly a kind of struggle that has happened with Sarah Palin with her ex-brother-in-law case. She wanted to get rid of him from the law enforcement for his troubling behaviors toward her family. But she knew the ethics law so did it in a subtly way which is still a violation. Now as expected, her political opponents are all over her.

Year 2009;
An intel says a terrorist group training in a sensitive region a nuke attack against America (no doubt it will happen). How would Obama react to it and what about Sarah? Will it be better to take no-action and see what happens or preemptive action with a risk?

No wonder the world chants “Obama!”

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:


I don't quite understand the point you're trying to make here. For me, this isn't about Obama's reaction, but about the welfare of his half aunt, who is a migrant. This blog advocates on behalf of migrant rights. What anger's me about Obama's reaction is that he's distanced himself from this, when the aunt's asylum rights were infringed upon. Not cool.

MRH said:

I read somewhere recently -- and of course I don't remember where -- that something like 10% of all families in the US are mixed-status. That's **all** families. There is nothing unusual about this.

And as to whether Obama should have known where his half-aunt was and what she was up to ... Please! I have relatives closer than that whose whereabouts I don't know, and for whom I don't take responsibility.

I can imagine that someone in Zeituni Oyango's position might have been very embarrassed to get in touch with her famous half-nephew looking for help, and if he'd sponsored a private bill to straighten out her situation it would have caused an uproar.

At least the wingnuts can't blame this one on La Raza ...

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