Auntie Zeituni’s troubles

By Michelle Chen Apr 03, 2009

As anti-immigrant groups flail around in search of new targets, they’ve stumbled upon a two-fer with Barack Obama’s aunt, now painted as a symbol of asylum “fraud” in the President’s family: The details of the backstory are vague, but news outlets report that Zeituni Onyango has, since 2002, been pressing her case for political asylum, based on violence in her native Kenya. A judge ruled this week that she can remain in the United States pending another hearing in early 2010. The Obama administration has distanced itself from the case, stating that it should “run its course.” The bottom-feeding machine at Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) has a different spin, according to this press statement from FAIR president Dan Stein, arguing that the case is but one example of deeper problems:

"Ms. Onyango’s case is a glaring example of how illegal aliens can defy our laws and use the judicial process to delay and, ultimately, avoid deportation… At every level, our immigration policies are in shambles because there are rarely consequences for flouting our laws. In immigration law, justice delayed works to the benefit of the people who break our laws, while justice is denied to citizens and immigrants who play by the rules. "Given the administration’s across-the-board gutting of immigration enforcement, we are likely to see the adjudication process become even more susceptible to this sort of abuse."

To summarize: exercising the right to petition for asylum is to insidiously “manipulate" the law. and the fact that a court, upon reviewing the evidence, granted Oyango a stay of deportation demonstrates “abuse” of the legal process. No one would deny that the immigration process is rife with error and bureaucratic incompetence, but who suffers the most from these systemic deficiencies? Hard to say who’s been "denied justice" by the Bush administration’s post-9/11 “material support” policies. The rules lumped asylum-seekers with legitimate persecution claims together with so-called terrorists, blockading relief for people who had been brutally forced to “support” to alleged terrorist organizations. Though immigration authorities have pledged to revise the policy, the effort comes too late for at least one Sri Lankan fisherman, detained for two years because he was kidnapped for ransom by the Tamil Tigers. Who’s failing to play by the rules when nefarious “immigration consultants” lure in clients, file botched paperwork, and bilk them with huge fees after damaging their legal cases? FAIR’s right on one point: the asylum system is indeed broken. Perhaps they are referring to this nationwide analysis of inconsistency in asylum decisions, which found that judges “had widely disparate grant rates for essentially matched sets of cases,” and that legal outcomes were highly dependent on the judge’s gender and past work experience. Or maybe FAIR simply thinks the throngs of desperate asylum-seekers awaiting relief are just out to game the system. True, the case of Obama’s aunt has received more attention than it deserves. Far less publicized is the way US immigration policies routinely fail some of the world’s most embattled people. Image: Tom Pilston / Panos