Federal immigration officials have notified President Obama’s uncle that they want to discuss his deportation to his native Kenya, confirming for the first time since last summer that he could still be forced to leave the country.
The notice arrived days after Onyango Obama resolved a drunken driving case in Framingham that exposed the quiet 67-year-old as living in the United States illegally 20 years after he was ordered deported.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Brian P. Hale said Tuesday that now that Obama’s criminal case is over, “ICE has communicated, in accordance with standard procedure, with the attorney of record regarding his removal pursuant to a previous final order by an immigration judge.’’
Obama, who is the half-brother of the president’s late father, must appear at a meeting next week at ICE offices in Burlington to discuss his deportation, according to a person with direct knowledge of his case. He is the second presidential relative found to be living in the United States illegally; the president’s aunt won asylum in 2010.
It is unclear whether Obama will ultimately be deported. His lawyers have said in the past that he would fight to stay in the United States, though they did not respond to requests for comment this week.
Obama’s arrest on drunken driving charges last August attracted international attention because he is related to the president but also because it brought to light the fact that he had avoided deportation for nearly 20 years after the Board of Immigration Appeals ruled he must leave the country.
Obama had come to the United States legally in 1963 to study at a prestigious private high school, but was ordered in 1989 to return to Kenya. Obama appealed but lost, and he never left the country.
The notice that he must appear to discuss deportation comes a day after state motor vehicle officials granted Obama driving privileges, even though a judge in the drunken driving case had suspended his license a week before. The Registry of Motor Vehicles granted him a hardship license because he had enrolled in alcohol education classes and because he needed to drive to work between the two liquor stores he manages in Framingham and North Grafton.
The Registry verified that he had a valid Social Security number but did not check his immigration status, a fact that some critics say highlights a loophole in the state’s driver’s licensing process.
“If someone is in removal proceedings, I think it’s pretty tough to justify issuing them a driver’s license,’’ said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors stricter controls on immigration. “They wouldn’t consider issuing a license to somebody who hadn’t passed the driver’s test. Why would they issue one to somebody who hasn’t passed the legal presence test?’’
Vaughan said the Registry should enroll in a federal immigration program that automatically checks drivers’ legal status when they apply for licenses and other state benefits.
Two Massachusetts agencies, the Department of Transitional Assistance and the Division of Unemployment Assistance, use the federal system to ensure that illegal immigrants do not obtain government benefits.
The Registry does not use the program, according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which runs the program.
Rachel Kaprielian, head of the Registry, said Obama’s immigration status did not come into play, since Registry officials are only required to check a person’s name, date of birth, address and residency in Massachusetts, and Social Security number.
“The RMV’s role is to license drivers and register vehicles; it’s not to investigate immigration cases,’’ she said, adding that “our Registry of Motor Vehicles is not an arm of federal Homeland Security.’’
Obama had admitted in Framingham District Court that the state had enough evidence to convict him of drunken driving, but he did not plead guilty.
A judge sentenced Obama to one year of probation, suspended his driver’s license for 45 days, and ordered him to enroll in alcohol education programs and pay $350 in court fees. The judge continued the case without a finding for one year, meaning it will be dismissed if Obama’s record stays clean.
In Obama’s Framingham neighborhood Tuesday, his neighbors spoke fondly of the elderly man who keeps mostly to himself, sometimes chatting with their children in English or waving a friendly hello as they bring in their groceries.
After midday Tuesday, Obama pulled into his driveway and frowned when approached by two journalists. He stepped out carrying bags from Market Basket and rushed into the house without comment.Maria Sacchetti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.