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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

Pre-election Leak Led to Aunt Zeituni's Asylum Grant

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In May 2010, an Immigration Judge in Boston granted asylum to President Obama's aunt, Zeituni Onyango.  The decision sparked protests from some who claimed (without evidence) that the President used his influence to help his relative.


Now, the Boston Globe reports that the IJ's decision has been released in response to a Freedom of Information Act Request.  The 29-page decision is largely redacted, but the IJ's reasoning seems clear.  On November 1, 2008, shortly before the presidential election, the Associated Press reported that Barack Obama's Kenyan aunt was living in the U.S. illegally.  Regarding the source of this information, the AP wrote:


Information about the deportation case was disclosed and confirmed by two separate sources, one of them a federal law enforcement official. The information they made available is known to officials in the federal government, but the AP could not establish whether anyone at a political level in the Bush administration or in the McCain campaign had been involved in its release.


Based on this statement, the IJ found that "an official of the United States government disclosed the Respondent's status as an asylum applicant... to the public at large."  The IJ found that this disclosure--which clearly violated federal regulations--was a "reckless and illegal violation of her right to privacy which has exposed her to great risk."  He further found that this exposure distinguished the aunt from President Obama's other relatives living safely in Kenya because her asylum case was revealed in a "highly politicized manner."  (According to a recent AP article, DHS is investigating the leak.)


Given the country conditions in Kenya, the IJ found that Ms. Zeituni would be a target and that she had "at least a 10% chance of future persecution."  The IJ granted asylum, but declined to rule on her applications for withholding of removal or relief under the UN Convention Against Torture.

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