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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

Congressman Steve King's Aunt Onyango Stunt

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Congressman Steve King (R-Iowa) is the latest politician to exploit President Obama's Aunt Onyango for political gain.  Zeituni Onyango is the Kenyan half sister of President Obama's father.  She filed for asylum in 2002 and lost, but after Obama came onto the national scene, she re-applied and her application was granted.  Applications for asylum are confidential, but that doesn't seem to bother Rep. King.  In a letter to the Chair of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law, he writes:


I am concerned about the public perception that favoritism played a role in the grant of asylum to Ms. Onyango.  The Boston Globe reported that "the [asylum] decision unleashed a firestorm of criticism from those who felt Onyango received preferential treatment because of her relationship with the president."   In order to better determine whether favoritism played a role - especially because Ms. Onyango had been earlier turned down for asylum and ordered deported in 2004 before her nephew became president - the Subcommittee needs to hear from Ms. Onyango herself.  Therefore, I will invite her as the Republican witness on the second panel at Thursday's hearing.  


While I understand that asylum proceedings are generally confidential, Margaret Wong, Ms. Onyango's attorney, has clearly courted press attention regarding this matter.  In fact, I assume that the press learned that Ms. Onyango received asylum because of comments to the media made by Ms. Wong.  Therefore, Ms. Onyango has made herself a public figure and should have no hesitation about appearing before the Subcommittee.  Further, in order to facilitate Ms. Onyango's appearance before the Subcommittee, I request that you and Chairman Conyers authorize the Committee to reimburse her travel expenses.


I've already written about Ms. Onyango's case and the likely basis for granting her asylum.  Suffice it to say, for anyone familiar with the law of asylum, it's no great stretch to imagine why Mr. Onyango's case was approved.  Further, Rep. King's attempt to blame Ms. Onyango's attorney (who is apparently a bit of a self-promoter) for turning Ms. Onyango into a public figure is ridiculous--Ms. Onyango cannot be blamed for her attorney's actions.  Finally, if there were any type of misconduct or improper influence in this case, why ask Ms. Onyango about it?  Why not subpoena the Immigration Judge or the DHS attorney?  The reason is simple.  Rep. King does not care about the truth.  He just wants to exploit Obama's Aunt for his own political gain.

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