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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

President Obama's Aunt Granted Asylum

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An Immigration Judge in Boston granted asylum to President Obama's aunt Zeituni Onyango, a Kenyan national who has been in the U.S. since 2000.  Ms. Onyango first applied for asylum in 2002.  She was initially denied, but then either appealed or reopened her case (I have found nothing definitive about the course of the litigation).  Yesterday, the IJ granted her application for asylum. 

Obama Aunt At least as far as I can tell, the basis for Ms. Onyango's claim has not been made public.  My guess is that after Obama was elected president (or at least after he became nationally and internationally known), Ms. Onyango filed a motion to reopen her case and asserted that she would face persecution from people who wished to harm her family (the Obama family).  Given the various threats to our country, this seems a reasonably claim.  Although perhaps the possibility of her facing harm in Kenya is remote (Obama's grandmother is living there peacefully), it's easy to understand why an IJ would be reluctant to send her back.  She would make a tempting target for extremists, and it would be a blow to the U.S. if she were harmed.  Under these circumstances-and given the fairly low threshold for asylum-it's not a surprise that the IJ granted Ms. Onyango's claim.

Professional Obama-hater Michelle Malkin and others have raised the question of whether Ms. Onyango received special treatment because of her relationship with the President.  Of course, I have no idea (and neither do they), but special treatment hardly seems necessary in a case like Ms. Onyango's.  I once represented an Afghani woman who received a fellowship to study in the United States.  A university brought her here and supported her, and the local press covered her progress for four years.  Towards the end of her fellowship, extremists in her country threatened her, and we applied for asylum.  I argued that she was a prime target for anti-American extremists because of her relationship with the our country-had she been harmed in Afghanistan, it would have been seen as a major victory for our enemies.  The Asylum Office granted her application.  Ms. Onyango's situation was similar to my client's, in that our enemies would view an attack against her as an attack against the United States.  Not surprisingly, the IJ was not willing to take that risk.

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