fb-pixel Skip to main content

Obama’s uncle has drunken-driving case continued for a year

Onyango Obama, the uncle of President Obama, standing with his lawyer, P. Scott Bratton, surrendered his driver’s license Tuesday in Framingham District Court.ALLAN JUNG/METROWEST DAILY NEWS VIA AP

FRAMINGHAM - President Obama’s uncle, Onyango Obama, admitted to sufficient facts on charges of drunken driving Tuesday in Framingham District Court, renewing questions over whether he will now battle deportation to his native Kenya.

A judge continued the case without a finding for one year, meaning it will then be dismissed if Obama’s record stays clean.

The liquor store employee, a half brother of the president’s late father, did not plead guilty, but conceded that prosecutors had enough evidence for a conviction.

Obama, 67, stone-faced and dressed in a brown suit, was silent in court except when asked questions by Judge Douglas Stoddart.


The prosecutor had asked for a guilty finding, but defense lawyer P. Scott Bratton told the judge that Obama had no criminal convictions, was unlikely to reoffend, and had arrived in the United States from Kenya in 1963 to attend high school.

He urged the judge to treat Obama like other first offenders facing a misdemeanor drunken-driving charge.

“This has been a very difficult time for him,’’ Bratton said of his client.

The judge sentenced Obama to one year probation, suspended his driver’s license for 45 days, and ordered him to enroll in alcohol education programs and pay $350 in court fees. Obama was found not responsible for failing to yield, and a negligent motor vehicle operation charge was dismissed.

After the brief hearing, Obama left the courthouse and only said, “No comment.’’

“He feels good to have it behind him,’’ Bratton told reporters. “It was upsetting to him that he received so much attention.’’

Obama’s drunken-driving arrest in August attracted international attention because it revealed that he had been living in the United States illegally since he was ordered deported in 1992, the second presidential relative found to be living in the United States illegally.


Tuesday, seven months after his arrest, Onyango Obama’s immigration status remained unclear.

His defense lawyer said he believed Obama would be back before the federal immigration court in May, but the immigration court had no record of a hearing, and a court spokeswoman refused to comment on the case.

His immigration lawyers at the time of his arrest did not respond to requests Tuesday for comment.

Federal immigration officials, who placed a detainer on Obama after his arrest last year and jailed him for more than two weeks, did not answer questions Tuesday on whether they are still pursuing his deportation.

Immigrants with outstanding deportation orders and pending criminal charges are often locked up until they are deported, immigration lawyers said.

Bratton told reporters that Obama now has a temporary work permit, will apply for a hardship driver’s license from the Registry of Motor Vehicles, and is still appealing the 1992 deportation order.

Bratton predicted that the misdemeanor would have “little, if any, impact on his immigration status.’’

But immigration lawyers were not so sure. They said the drunken-driving case, while minor by criminal standards, could hurt Obama in federal immigration court.

Immigration judges frown even on minor crimes, especially involving drunken driving, and they can reopen cases at their discretion.

Also, Obama would have to prove to a judge that his circumstances have changed enough to warrant reexamining his case 20 years after he was ordered deported.

“Many of the judges view [drunken-driving cases] as a very negative factor,’’ said Jeremiah Friedman, a Boston immigration lawyer.


An immigration judge could also consider factors such as Obama’s age, potential health issues, and family ties.

Obama, who lives in Framingham, is not married and has no children.

“To reopen at this point, 20 years later, it would have to be some sort of extraordinary circumstances,’’ said Matthew Maiona, a Boston immigration lawyer and past president of the local chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Lawyers said Obama could also apply for asylum or bypass the courts altogether and ask Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which detains and deports immigrants, to stay his deportation, placing him in a sort of limbo.

Obama’s sister, Zeituni Onyango, won asylum in 2010, reversing prior deportation orders by saying she suffered health issues and undue exposure as a relative of the president.

She became eligible to apply for a green card and eventually could apply for US citizenship.

Zeituni Onyango’s asylum case dragged through the immigration courts for nearly two years.

By comparison, Onyango Obama’s criminal case was resolved in a brief hearing Tuesday.

Obama was arrested Aug. 24 by Officer Val Krishtal, who said that Obama’s white sport utility vehicle cut in front of the officer’s unmarked cruiser on Waverly Street, nearly causing a collision.

Krishtal had Obama take a chemical breath test, saying his eyes were bloodshot and his speech slurred, and the test showed his blood-alcohol level to be 0.14 percent, above the legal limit, court records show.


After the hearing, Bratton said that neither he nor Obama had reached out to the White House for help.

“Absolutely not,’’ Bratton said.

Court records show that at his arrest, Obama said, “I think I will call the White House.’’

Ira Mehlman - spokesman for the Washington-based Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors tougher controls on illegal immigration - said Obama should be deported.

“Anybody who has made a mockery of immigration laws for 20 years ought to be removed from the country once and for all,’’ he said.

“It doesn’t matter if his nephew happens to be the president of United States.’’

John Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Lisa Kocian can be reached at kocian@globe.com. Maria Sacchetti can be reached at msacchetti@globe.com.