President Obama's Kenyan aunt appeared before a U.S. immigration judge in Boston today, taking the stand for more than two-and-a-half hours to explain why she should not be deported.
Zeituni Onyango, 57, is fighting a 2004 removal order by seeking asylum in this country, a status granted to those who cannot return home out of fear of being persecuted.
But just what persecution Onyango claims to face and whether the judge will find her fears well-founded remains uncertain. The closed hearing concluded without a final decision by the judge, who now either can issue a decision in the coming months or continue the case on May 25.
Onyango first applied for asylum in 2002 "due to violence in Kenya," but was denied and ordered to leave the country.
Instead of returning home, the woman who helped raise the president's half brothers and sister in Kenya and whom Obama affectionately referred to as "Auntie Zeituni" in his memoir has remained illegally in Boston, living in subsidized public housing.
Onyango arrived at the courthouse in a wheelchair, and Mike Rogers, a spokesman for her lawyer, Margaret Wong, said Onyango's medical conditions would be part of the case. Two doctors also were expected to testify.
The case, which first surfaced in October 2008, just before the presidential election, once again is drawing international attention and sparking speculation about whether Obama will intervene on her behalf.
"President Obama must either deport his aunt or destroy his own credibility by showing her favoritism," said William Gheen of the conservative Americans for Legal Immigration PAC.
The White House has insisted that it has no involvement with Onyango's case, leaving it to follow an ordinary course before a federal judge who will apply the rule of law.
"We would continue to say that everybody in this country should and must follow the law," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said today. "We have not been involved at all in that hearing."
Gibbs also denied that the first family is helping pay any of Onyango's legal fees.
Onyango told The Associated Press she has not been in contact with anyone from the White House or been contacted by them.
Onyango did not respond to ABC News' requests for interviews.
"She hasn't been in touch with the president. He can't help her," Rogers told ABC News.
The Department of Homeland Security, which is part of the Obama administration, is prosecuting the case, which was heard in a closed hearing before U.S. Immigration Court Judge Leonard Shapiro.
Shapiro is a civil service employee and not a political appointee, according to the court.
"The lawyers aren't discussing any strategy, but they feel confident," said Rogers. "Margaret Wong feels 95 percent certain that she will prevail."
While details of Onyango's asylum request are not being disclosed, her case was at least compelling enough to convince Shapiro in December 2008 to take the unusual step of reopening the matter and issuing a stay on her deportation.
Experts speculate that Onyango could be claiming that her relationship to Obama makes her a target of Kenya's political tribal factions fearing her perceived influence, or of Islamic extremist groups seeking to inflict harm on the U.S. president's family.