BOSTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s aunt Zeituni Onyango, who was denied asylum in the United States but stayed illegally for years, died Tuesday at age 61.
Onyango, whose immigration status was reported by The Associated Press days before Obama’s election in 2008, had been treated in recent months for cancer and respiratory problems, Cleveland attorney Margaret Wong said. She died in a Boston rehabilitation center, said Wong, who represented her in her immigration case.
Onyango, a half-sister of Obama’s late father, moved from Kenya to the U.S. in 2000 and was denied asylum by an immigration judge in 2004. She remained in the country illegally, living in Boston public housing.
She finally was granted asylum in 2010 by a judge who said she could be in danger if she returned to Kenya because of her relationship with Obama.
Onyango was born in Kenya in May 1952 under a mango tree and was delivered by a midwife, Wong said. She raised a family in Kenya and worked in the computer department of Kenya Breweries, she said.
“She was an awesome, funny, shrewd, smart lady born at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Wong said. “If she was only born in America or born in more Western open society instead of being bogged down by tribes, lineage and being a woman in Kenya, she could have been anything she wanted to be.”
Wong said Onyango had become ill in January and died early Tuesday morning in her sleep.
The White House, which had no immediate reaction to Onyango’s death on Tuesday, had said previously that Obama did not intervene in her immigration case.
Obama, in his memoir “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance,” affectionately referred to Onyango as Auntie Zeituni and described meeting her during his 1988 trip to Kenya. She helped care for his half-brothers and sister while living with his father, Barack Obama Sr., in Kenya.