Boston: President Barack Obama`s aunt, an illegal immigrant from Kenya, pleaded for political asylum before a Boston court Thursday in a case that risks embarrassing the embattled president.
Zeituni Onyango, 57, arrived at the Boston federal immigration court in her second attempt to secure asylum after ignoring a 2004 deportation order.
Defense attorney Margaret Wong said Onyango would "testify and there will be two other witnesses," both doctors.
"They`re probably going to try to prevent the deportation because of medical issues," Wong said. "But we have more than one ground."
Wong said that Onyango would plead to be allowed to stay in the United States citing "tribal violence" in Kenya.
It was not clear whether Judge Leonard Shapiro would make a ruling at Thursday`s closed-door hearing.
Wong said that Onyango would appeal if ordered deported. The US government also has the right of appeal.
The case puts Obama in a delicate position at a time when he is reeling from his Democratic party`s failure to pass health care reform legislation and a surge in momentum for the opposition Republicans.
Although there is no suggestion of favoritism or intervention by the White House, the issue could provide an unwelcome distraction as the year-old Obama presidency struggles to impose itself, as well as fueling right-wing conspiracy theories about Obama`s exotic family background.
Despite having lived illegally for years in Massachusetts, Onyango was unearthed by the US media in 2008 only days before Obama`s November election.
The White House said the president was unaware of her illegal status and that the appropriate laws should be followed.
The publicity could also affect how Onyango is treated, both here and back in her homeland, lawyers say.
"She`s the aunt of the president of the United States -- the most famous man in the world," Mike Rogers, spokesman for the Ohio law firm defending Onyango, told the Boston Herald.
The newspaper reported that Onyango has requested the case be heard before a closed session, though that is not unusual in immigration hearings.
"The immigration judge will hear the merits of the case from both parties," said Lauren Alder Reid of the US Department of Justice`s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which speaks for the court. "The judge may make a ruling from the bench, but there`s no guarantee."
Onyango has said she never asked Obama for help and that she cut off any ties to the president. It remains unclear who is paying for her legal representation, since Onyango has been living in public housing and has no know funds of her own.
She is the half-sister of Obama`s late father, who was Kenyan and married a white American, who gave birth to Obama in Hawaii.
Onyango moved to the United States in 2000 and applied for political asylum two years later, but was turned down. She was ordered deported in 2004.