Illegal status of Obama’s aunt highlights hot topic with Hispanics

Obama's half aunt, Zeituni Onyango
Obama's half aunt, Zeituni Onyango


With just hours to go before the U.S. election, Sen. Barack Obama has dared to comment on the politically sensitive subject of immigration, saying that he supports the deportation of his aunt, who has illegally been living in the U.S. for the last four years.

In an interview with CBS News' Katie Couric on Sunday, Obama said: "If she is violating laws those laws have to be obeyed. We're a nation of laws. Obviously that doesn't lessen my concern for her, I haven't been able to be in touch with her. But I'm a strong believer you have to obey the law."


Obama’s reaction comes after the Associated Press revealed last Friday that his half aunt, Zeituni Onyango, is living in public housing in Boston after having been denied political asylum and told to leave the country by a federal immigration judge in 2004.


The AP also discovered that Onyango had donated $260 in small amounts to the Obama campaign, which is illegal for non-U.S. citizens to do under campaign finance law. The Obama campaign has announced it is returning the money.

The plight of Obama’s aunt raises the situation of immigrants to the national stage at the eleventh hour of the election campaign.


Archbishop Jose Gomez of San Antonio, who is an American citizen with a Hispanic background, recently addressed the national debate surrounding immigration, calling it “bad for the soul of America.”  


“There is too much anger. Too much resentment. Too much fear. Too much hate. It’s eating people up. And it’s just no good for people to be consumed by fear and hate. It’s no good for their souls. And it’s no good for our country, my friends,” Archbishop Gomez said at the Missouri Catholic Conference in early October.


Archbishop Gomez also lamented that American laws at the state and federal level are beginning to “reflect these kind of fears and resentments.”


“I don’t know how many anti-immigrant laws have been enacted this year. I’ve lost track. The last I heard, it was something like 200 new laws in 40 states. And that’s just this year. In 2007, I believe there were 240 new laws in 46 states,” Gomez stated.


This “national crisis,” Gomez said, “calls for national leadership. I understand that the presidential candidates don’t want to touch this issue before the election. … But this is the hard work of democracy. As soon as this election is over and a new government sworn in, we need to insist that our leaders roll up their sleeves and get to work on comprehensive immigration reform.”


Obama’s stand on whether or not his aunt should be deported could cost him votes within the Latino electorate, which views him as having a Latino-friendly stand on immigration.

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