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It’s a time-honored tactic to bring up a political foe’s family foibles. Jimmy Carter’s alcoholic brother. Bill Clinton’s brother’s drug arrest.
Now the target is President Barack Obama and his Kenyan relatives, and the person taking aim is Michele Bachmann.
The Minnesota congresswoman who is running for president mentioned Obama’s family members in answering a question about immigration policy during a Republican primary debate.
"Well, I think the person who really has a problem with illegal immigration in the country is President Obama. It's his uncle and his aunt who are illegal aliens... who've been allowed to stay in this country, despite the fact that they're illegal," Bachmann said, according to a transcript of the Oct. 18, 2011, debate.
Bachmann’s campaign didn’t respond when we asked what the basis was for this claim, but stories about Obama’s aunt and uncle have been in the news plenty this year.
In October 2008, the Boston Globe tracked down Zeituni Onyango, believed to be Obama’s paternal aunt, living in a public housing project. Obama’s presidential campaign soon confirmed their relationship. Onyango is the half-sister of Obama’s late father.
Then came the news, reported by the Associated Press, that Onyango had previously been ordered to leave the country by an immigration judge who denied her request, based on violence in her home country, for political asylum. That meant she was no longer in the U.S. legally. The Obama campaign responded that the candidate had no knowledge of Onyango’s immigration status.
Within days, Obama was elected president.
Onyango’s request for asylum was reopened in December 2008, and she won a 10-month reprieve. After several more court hearings, a judge granted her asylum in May 2010. The White House said it had not intervened in the case, while critics charged that such an outcome was rare for most illegal residents.
The Globe reported later that the judge had based his decision on the fact that Onyango’s immigration status had been leaked to the media, which exposed her to heightened threats of persecution in Kenya.
This year, it was an Obama uncle who made news.
Onyango Obama, the brother of Zeituni Onyango and the president’s late father, was arrested in August in Framingham, Mass., on a suspicion of drunk driving.
The Boston Globe, citing an arrest report, said Obama first told the officer he had not had anything to drink, then admitted to one beer and then to two beers. He failed three sobriety tests and had a blood alcohol level of .14, the paper said. The legal limit in Massachusetts is 0.08.
When offered a phone call, the paper quoted from the report that Obama replied, "I think I’d like to call the White House.’’
He was also held on an immigration detainer. The Globe cited anonymous federal law enforcement sources who said immigration authorities discovered that Obama had been living and working in Massachusetts in violation of a 1992 deportation order. "Uncle Omar," as the president knows him, first came to the U.S. in 1963 and enrolled in school in Cambridge, Mass., the Globe wrote.
After being held for about two weeks, the 67-year-old Obama was released from jail with little explanation from officials. A White House spokesman said the administration expected the case to be handled like any other and that the elder Obama would not receive any special help.
One of the elder Obama’s lawyers -- from the same firm who helped his sister -- said he planned to fight deportation.
"He's just been here for such a long period of time. He hasn't been to Kenya in forever. He was young when he came to the United States," attorney Scott Bratton told the Boston Globe.
Obama has pleaded not guilty in the drunken driving case, which is still pending.
Bachmann said, "I think the person who really has a problem with illegal immigration in the country is President Obama. It's his uncle and his aunt who are illegal aliens... who've been allowed to stay in this country, despite the fact that they're illegal."
It’s true that the president’s aunt and uncle were both in the U.S. illegally at one time, But Zeituni Onyango was granted asylum in May 2010 and is no longer in the U.S. illegally. We rate Bachmann's statement Half True.
Associated Press story, Aug. 31, 2011
"Obama aunt may live in Boston She has worked for BHA, city says," Boston Globe, Oct. 30, 2008, accessed via Nexis
‘Aunt Zeituni in Hub, Obama campaign says," Boston Globe, Oct. 31, 2008, accessed via Nexis
"Judge's decision to let Obama aunt stay in U.S. was triggered by leak that heightened danger," Boston Globe, Aug. 17, 2010
"Obama kin arrested on DUI charge," Boston Globe, Aug. 30, 2011
"Obama’s uncle quietly released from jail," Boston Globe, Sept. 9, 2011
"No Slack for Obama’s Uncle," New York Times, Sept. 1, 2011
"Obama's uncle set to fight deportation; Same legal team helped sister stay," Boston Globe, Sept. 1, 2011, accessed via Nexis
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