*A U.S. immigration court has granted asylum to the Kenyan aunt of President Barack Obama.
A judge in U.S. Immigration Court in Boston is allowing Zeituni Onyango, the half-sister of Obama’s late father, to stay in the country and embark on the road to citizenship after years of legal wrangling, her attorneys announced Monday.
The decision comes three months after Onyango testified at a closed hearing in Boston.
People who seek asylum must show that they face persecution in their homeland on the basis of religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a social group.
The basis for Onyango’s asylum request was never made public, but her lawyer Margaret Wong said last year that Onyango first applied for asylum “due to violence in Kenya.”
The East African nation is fractured by cycles of electoral violence every five years. Medical issues also could have played a role. In a November interview with The Associated Press, Onyango said she was disabled and was learning to walk again after being paralyzed from Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disorder.
At her hearing in Boston earlier this year, she arrived in a wheelchair and two doctors testified in support of her case.
Onyango will now apply for a work permit, which would provide some documentation that she is permitted to stay in the country and allow her to travel again, Wong said. A year from now, she will be eligible to apply for a green card, which is given to people who are granted legal permanent residency in the U.S., Wong said. Five years after receiving her green card, she can apply to become a U.S. citizen.
Onyango initially came to the U.S. in 2000 just for a visit, Wong said. Her first request for political asylum in 2002 was rejected, and she was ordered deported in 2004. But she didn’t leave the country and continued to live in public housing in Boston.
Her status as an illegal immigrant was revealed just days before Obama was elected in November 2008. Obama said he did not know his aunt was living here illegally and believes laws covering the situation should be followed.