President-elect Obama's aunt intends to fight a deportation order and remain in the United States, her immigration lawyer said Friday.
The Associated Press found that Zeituni Onyango, 56, is staying with relatives in Cleveland after fleeing her public housing apartment in Boston. She had been living there five years.
Onyango, who is Obama's father's half-sister, was ordered to leave the country in 2004 by an immigration judge who rejected her request for asylum from her native Kenya.
Cleveland attorney Margaret Wong told the AP on Friday she is exploring legal options and may file a motion to reopen Onyango's case or file an appeal for her to stay on humanitarian grounds. She would not discuss Onyango's reasons for seeking asylum in the United States.
"She will do whatever she can do to fight for the privilege to stay in America," she said.
Obama's campaign said previously he did not know about his aunt's status but believes she should obey the law. The campaign said it was returning $260 that Onyango had contributed in small increments to Obama's presidential bid over several months.
Wong, a prominent immigration attorney and frequent political contributor to candidates of both parties, said Onyango believes someone leaked information about her immigration status to try to hurt Obama's candidacy.
"She's upset that people could just hurt her like that ... use her to try to hurt Barack," Wong said.
"She had never asked Barack for help. She just doesn't want to hurt him," she said.
Wong said she was contacted recently by Onyango's cousin — a clergyman in Cleveland whom Wong would not identify — and asked to represent her. She said Onyango fled Boston after the story broke last week and took a train to Cleveland to stay with her cousin.
Wong said she is exploring legal avenues, including filing a motion to reopen her case, or making a humanitarian appeal for her to stay.
"I will try to keep her here legally," Wong said.
Onyango has been sickly since her immigration status became public, and Wong said she would not immediately make her available to speak to a reporter.
Kenya has been fractured by violence in recent years, including a period of two months of bloodshed after December 2007 that killed 1,500 people.
Obama was raised largely by his mother and her parents in Hawaii. He first met his father's side of the family when he traveled to Africa 20 years ago. He referred to Onyango as "Auntie Zeituni" when describing the trip in his memoir, saying she was "a proud woman."
Obama's campaign said he had seen her a few times since that meeting, beginning with a return trip to Kenya with his future wife, Michelle, in 1992. Onyango visited the family in Chicago on a tourist visa at Obama's invitation about nine years ago, the campaign said, stopping to visit friends on the East Coast before returning to Kenya.
She attended Obama's swearing-in to the U.S. Senate in 2004, but campaign officials said Obama provided no assistance in getting her a tourist visa and doesn't know the details of her stay. The campaign said he last heard from her about two years ago when she called saying she was in Boston, but he did not see her there.