Kenyan Aunt of President Obama Wins Asylum in U.S. on Second Try

Zeituni Onyango had been ordered deported in 2004 after first asylum declined.

WASHINGTON, May 17, 2010— -- A U.S. immigration court has granted asylum toPresident Obama's Kenyan aunt, Zeituni Onyango, who was ordered deported from the U.S. in 2004 but stayed and appealed for the right to live here.

Onyango, 57, the half-sister of Obama's late father, made a personal appeal before a judge at a closed hearing in February, but details of the case she made remains unclear.

"The asylum process is confidential and she wants to keep it that way," her attorney Scott Bratton told the Associated Press today. "She doesn't want people to feel sorry for her."

Onyango, who moved to the U.S. in 2000, first applied for asylum in 2002 "due to violence in Kenya." That request was rejected and she was ordered to leave the country.

Instead of returning home, Onyango, 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 in Boston, living in subsidized public housing.

Mike Rogers, a spokesman for her lawyer, Margaret Wong, told ABC News Onyango's medical conditions were part of the request for asylum and that two doctors testified on her behalf. She is said to suffer from Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disorder, which left her temporarily paralyzed.

Onyango's case, which first surfaced in October 2008, just before the presidential election, has drawn international attention and speculation about whether Obama would intervene on her behalf.

The White House has said that it had no involvement with Onyango's case, leaving it to follow an ordinary course before a federal judge who will apply the rule of law.

"You're telling me for the first time what the decision is," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said today. "We had no involvement in that. And that's something that -- that we've always said should be dealt with through the normal course of how these cases are determined."

Gibbs has also said that the first family has not helped to 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. She did not respond to ABC News' requests for interviews.

"She hasn't been in touch with the president," Rogers said.

The Department of Homeland Security, which is part of the Obama administration, prosecuted 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.

Obama's Kenyan Aunt Gets Rare U.S. Asylum

While details of Onyango's appeal are not being disclosed, her case is notable given how rarely asylum is granted.

In 2008, the Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review completed 46,237 asylum cases -- 10,743 of which were granted, 13,199 were denied, and 22,295 were abandoned, withdrawn or resolved in other ways, agency spokeswoman Lauren Alder Reid told ABC News.

Kenyans have made up a relatively small portion of asylum requests over the past 10 years. Of the 343 applications from Kenya in 2008, only 60 were granted asylum.

Experts speculate that Onyango could have claimed that her relationship to Obama made her a target of Kenya's political tribal factions fearing her perceived influence, or of Islamic extremist groups seeking to inflict harm on the President Obama's family.

Asylum is granted by law in cases when an individual faces "persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion," according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.

"Certainly, the Kenyan government would not be interested in harming her," said Washington, D.C. immigration lawyer Andres Benach, who regularly takes asylum cases, but is not involved in this case. "So she would have to show that it would be persecution by groups that the Kenyan government is unable or unwilling to control -- maybe al Qaeda-like organizations that operate with a measure of impunity in Kenya."

Most people who apply for asylum don't receive it because the burden of proof for the feared persecution is that it has at least a 10 percent chance of happening.

"Personal vendettas, random crime, conditions everybody is subjected to, do not support asylum," Benach said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.