President Barack Obama's uncle, an illegal immigrant charged with drunken driving last week, was ordered by an immigration judge to leave the country almost two decades ago, a federal official said Wednesday.
The official said a deportation order was issued against Onyango Obama in 1992. The official spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release details on the case.
Obama, who's from Kenya, is the half-brother of the president's late father. He has pleaded not guilty to operating under the influence of alcohol and is being held on an immigration detainer.
An immigration detainer, used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to identify people in jail or prison who could be deported, is a request to another law enforcement agency to notify ICE before releasing the person from custody so ICE can arrange to take over custody.
Obama's immigration attorney, Margaret Wong, of Cleveland, declined to comment on his case or on how long he has been living in the U.S. illegally.
The White House also has declined to comment.
Obama, 67, was arrested last week in Framingham, where he has lived for years, about 20 miles west of Boston. He had made a rolling stop at a stop sign and nearly caused a police cruiser to strike his sport utility vehicle, police said. After being booked at a police station, he was asked whether he wanted to make a telephone call to arrange for bail, they said.
"I think I will call the White House," he said, according to a report written by Framingham police.
He is the second Obama family member to be discovered living illegally in the United States. His sister Zeituni Onyango, the president's aunt, made headlines last year when she won the right to stay in the United States after an earlier deportation order.
Onyango, of Boston, came to the United States from Kenya in 2000 and was denied asylum by an immigration judge in 2004. She stayed in the country illegally and was granted asylum last year by a judge who found she could be a target in Kenya for those who oppose the United States and the president and for members of the Kenyan government.
Obama's traffic arrest has enflamed the debate over illegal immigration.
"It demonstrates what a mockery our immigration law has become," said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a national group that calls for stricter immigration laws. "Once immigrants get here, they can beat the system, they can ignore deportation orders. They can drag things out endlessly on appeal."
Obama has held a Massachusetts driver's license since at least 1992, according to the earliest electronic records kept by the state Registry of Motor Vehicles, spokesman Richard Nangle said.
"He had a Social Security number and proof of residence," Nangle said. "He did everything he needed to do by us."
Before Obama's arrest last week, he had a clear driving record, Nangle said.
The Social Security Administration did not respond to a telephone call seeking comment on Obama's case Wednesday. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to comment.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts, couldn't release details of Obama's case without having a signed privacy waiver from him or his attorney, spokeswoman Lauren Alder Reid said.
Boston immigration lawyer Anthony Drago said he didn't know the circumstances of Obama's case, but he said if Obama had applied for asylum he would've been eligible to apply for work authorization. If he then became legally authorized to work in the United States, Drago said, he would be eligible for a Social Security number.
Drago said some immigrants ignore deportation orders. But he said some feel they have no choice but to remain in the United States.
"Other people are just so petrified of leaving the United States and returning to a country where they feel their life is going to be in danger _ I wouldn't call that ignoring it," Drago said. "I would call that just not being able to leave."
The president, in his memoir "Dreams from My Father," refers to an Uncle Omar, who matches Obama's background and has the same date of birth.
The book is about the president retracing his roots and his 1988 trip to Kenya. In it, the president mentions photographs of his Uncle Omar, "the uncle who had left for America twenty-five years ago and had never come back." He also discusses a Kenyan expression about getting lost, meaning to not see someone in a while or to move away and stop communicating _ "like our Uncle Omar, in Boston."