Obama's aunt the focus of visa scandal

The scandal over Barack Obama's "Auntie Zeituni" sparked a Department of Homeland Security investigation yesterday, after it emerged that the Democratic candidate's close relative was living illegally in the United States.

Officials are investigating whether its privacy policy was breached when details regarding the immigration status of Zeituni Onyango, one of many half-sisters of Obama's father, Barack Snr, were leaked to a news organisation.

The Associated Press reported late on Friday that the woman, who lives in council housing in Boston and has made several donations to Obama's campaign, had been instructed to leave America four years ago by a judge who rejected her request for asylum from her native Kenya. News of the affair prompted the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to refer the affair to Homeland Security, in an attempt to establish how confidential details regarding Ms Onyango's case were made public.

"They are looking into whether there was a violation of policy in publicly disclosing individual case information," said a spokesman.

When Ms Onyango's case hit the headlines at the weekend, several senior Democrats claimed it marked a "dirty tricks" campaign to discredit their candidate in the closing stages of the campaign. "Senator Obama has no knowledge of her status but obviously believes any and all appropriate laws be followed," said campaign strategist David Axelrod. "I think people are suspicious about stories that surface in the final 72 hours of a national campaign."

The woman last spoke to the Democratic candidate two years ago, said campaign sources, and was also present at Mr Obama's swearing-in to the US Senate in 2004. But the Illinois senator had no role in helping her gain the tourist visa for that trip – which she subsequently overstayed – and claims to be unaware of any subsequent details of her stay. In an attempt to kill coverage of the affair, the Obama campaign yesterday agreed to return $260 (£160) that Ms Onyango had contributed in small increments over in recent months. According to records, she had last given $5 on 19 September.

Although the Associated Press claimed ignorance of whether anyone in the Bush administration or McCain campaign had been involved in the release of details about Ms Onyango, senior Democrats were unconvinced.

The House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers wrote to the Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, requesting an immediate investigation. He said it was "was not the first leak of law enforcement information apparently designed to influence the coming presidential election," apparently referring to an ongoing investigation of voter fraud by the Association of Community Organisations for Reform Now, or Acorn.

Meanwhile, John McCain's campaign seemed reluctant to capitalise on the story. Official spokesmen declined to comment, while former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, told reporters: "I don't think families should be hounded."

The Onyango case: A mysterious leak

Mr Obama's half aunt on his father's side, Zeituni Onyango, 56, was ordered to leave the US four years ago when she was denied political asylum. The story broke after The Times tracked her to Boston last week. The Associated Press then reported the news about her deportation case, raising suspicions it was leaked by the Bush administration. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says it cannot comment on an individual's immigration status.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
healthMeet the volunteer users helping to see if the banned drug can help cure depression and addiction
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Life and Style
tech
News
i100
News
Foo Fighters lead man Dave Grohl talks about the band's forthcoming HBO documentary series
people
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Direct Mail Machine Operative

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an i...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Day In a Page

Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
Fifa corruption: The officials are caught in the web of US legal imperialism - where double standards don't get in the way

Caught in the web of legal imperialism

The Fifa officials ensnared by America's extraterritorial authority are only the latest examples of this fearsome power, says Rupert Cornwell
Bruce Robinson: Creator of Withnail and I on his new book about Jack the Ripper

'Jack the Ripper has accrued a heroic aura. But I'm going after the bastard'

The deaths of London prostitutes are commonly pinned on a toff in a top hat. But Bruce Robinson, creator of Withnail and I, has a new theory about the killer's identity
Simon Stephens interview: The playwright on red-blooded rehearsals, disappointing his children - and why plays are like turtles

Simon Stephens interview

The playwright on red-blooded rehearsals, disappointing his children - and why plays are like turtles
Holidaying with a bike nut: Cycling obsessive Rob Penn convinces his wife to saddle up

Holidaying with a bike nut

Cycling obsessive Rob Penn convinces his wife to saddle up
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef pays homage to South-east Asia's palate-refreshing desserts

Bill Granger's fruity Asian desserts

Our chef's refreshing desserts are a perfect ending to a spicy, soy-rich meal
Fifa presidential election: What is the best way to see off Sepp Blatter and end this farce?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

What is the best way to see off Sepp Blatter and end this farce?
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison