Sunday, November 2, 2008

CHICAGO (AP) | Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama said Saturday that he didn’t know his aunt was defying a judge’s order and living in the United States illegally and in public housing.

The Associated Press found that Mr. Obama’s aunt had been instructed to leave the country four years ago by an immigration judge who rejected her request for asylum from her native Kenya. The woman, Zeituni Onyango, is living in public housing in Boston and donated to the Obama campaign despite being a foreigner. She is the half-sister of Mr. Obama’s late father.

A statement given to the AP by Mr. Obama’s campaign said, “Senator Obama has no knowledge of her status but obviously believes that any and all appropriate laws be followed.”

Traveling with Mr. Obama in Nevada, campaign strategist David Axelrod declined to elaborate on the statement, but said: “I think people are suspicious about stories that surface in the last 72 hours of a national campaign.”

An adviser to Republican John McCain’s campaign, Mark Salter, said he had no comment. “It’s a family matter,” Mr. Salter said.

The campaign said it was returning $260 that Ms. Onyango had contributed in small increments to Mr. Obama’s presidential bid over several months. Federal election law prohibits foreigners from making political donations. Ms. Onyango listed her employer as the Boston Housing Authority and last gave $5 on Sept. 19.

Ms. Onyango, 56, is part of Mr. Obama’s large paternal family, with many related to him by blood and whom he never knew growing up.

Barack Obama Sr. left the future Democratic presidential nominee when the boy was 2, and they reunited only once - for a monthlong visit when Mr. Obama was 10. The elder Mr. Obama lived most of his life in Kenya, where he fathered seven other children with three other wives. He died in a car crash in 1982.

Mr. Obama was raised for the most part by his mother and her parents in Hawaii. He first met his father’s side of the family when he traveled to Africa 20 years ago. He referred to Ms. Onyango as “Auntie Zeituni” when describing the trip in his memoir, saying she was “a proud woman.” Mr. Obama’s campaign said he had seen her a few times since that meeting, beginning with a 1992 return trip to Kenya with his then-future wife, Michelle.

When a reporter went to Ms. Onyango’s home Friday night, no one answered the door. Ms. Onyango did not immediately return telephone and written messages left at her home.

Ms. Onyango was instructed to leave the country by a U.S. immigration judge who denied her asylum request, a person familiar with the matter told the AP. This person spoke on the condition of anonymity because no one was authorized to discuss the case. Information about the deportation case was disclosed and confirmed by two separate sources, one a federal law enforcement official.

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