BOSTON (AP) — A judge who granted asylum to President Barack Obama’s African aunt ruled she deserved to stay in the United States because a federal government official leaked her status to a news organization, making her a potential target for persecution in her native Kenya.
U.S. Immigration Judge Leonard Shapiro blasted the leak by the unnamed official in his 29-page ruling granting asylum to Zeituni Onyango in May. His written decision was released this week through the Freedom of Information Act and first was reported by The Boston Globe.
Shapiro found that a federal government official disclosed Onyango’s immigration status and her relationship to Obama to The Associated Press three days before the November 2008 election in which Obama was elected as the first black president.
The AP’s story stated that Onyango, the half sister of Obama’s late father, had been living illegally in the United States after an immigration judge rejected her request for asylum four years earlier.
Information about Onyango’s case was disclosed and confirmed by two sources, one of them a federal law enforcement official. Onyango, 58, has been living in public housing in Boston.
Shapiro called the disclosure “a reckless and illegal violation of her right to privacy which has exposed her to great risk,” and he criticized the official for using the information for political reasons.
Shapiro found that because Onyango’s identity and status were disclosed, she would be a target in Kenya not only for those who oppose the United States and Obama but for members of the Kenyan government “who oppose President Obama’s politics and/or his ethnicity, which the Respondent shares.”
A Department of Homeland Security official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue said an internal investigation launched into the leak in 2008 is expected to come to an end soon.
One of Onyango’s Cleveland-based lawyers, Scott Bratton, said the asylum process is confidential, in part to protect people who may be sent back to their home countries. Leaking the information just before the election put Onyango at greater risk, he said.
“She is known to everybody now,” he said. “She is known to have applied for asylum. She’s been thrust into the spotlight, and because of that she has a fear of returning.”
In Obama’s memoir, “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance,” he affectionately referred to Onyango as Auntie Zeituni and described meeting her during his 1988 trip to Kenya.
Associated Press writer Eileen Sullivan in Washington contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.