Onyango Obama of Framingham has a drunken driving case, a deportation order, and a half-nephew who is president of the United States. So when, this week, an immigration appeals court granted a new hearing for the Kenyan-born liquor store employee so that he might avoid going back to a country in which he hasn’t lived for 50 years, some eyebrows were raised. They needn’t have been: There’s no evidence of any special treatment for the 68-year-old Obama, who is half-brother of the president’s late father. And after a half-century in the United States, the man deserves every chance to plead his case.
The court ruled that Obama’s case may have been prejudiced by inadequate legal counsel, without elaborating. The claim may have stemmed from his failure to challenge an earlier deportation order. If he had obtained legal status at that time, the drunken-driving offense in 2011 would not have required him to leave the country. The court will now hear whether Obama’s case was prejudiced by his lawyer’s mistake.
All the attention surrounding the case of Onyango Obama raises inevitable questions about a system that threatens to deport a man who has lived here, relatively peacefully, for half a century, based on a single offense. Obama pleaded “sufficient facts” to the drunken-driving charge, meaning that if he follows certain court-ordered provisions for a year, the case will be stripped from his record.
If the immigration rules seem too fungible, that’s because they are. Without comprehensive reform of the status of illegal immigrants, and a clearer, fairer set of standards for deportation rulings, immigration courts are left to improvise based on the facts of each case. And, it turns out, one of those cases just happens to involve the president’s uncle.