|Onyango Obama is now being held on an immigration detainer in the Plymouth County House of Correction.|
Onyango Obama, who is from Kenya and is known as the president’s Uncle Omar on his father’s side, had lived a quiet life in Massachusetts until last Wednesday, when police said the car he was driving darted in front of a police cruiser, nearly causing the officer to hit his car.
The federal officials, who spoke about Obama’s immigration status on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak about the case, said Obama had been told to leave in 1992, but he did not go.
Obama is the second relative of the president to have defied a deportation order, reigniting debate over illegal immigration and raising questions about how a man who had lived in the United States illegally for years had managed to secure a job, a Massachusetts driver’s license, and apparently, a federal Social Security number, without being detected by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
“There are hundreds of thousands of people who have been ordered deported and just ran off and nobody’s looking for them,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors strict controls on immigration.
Onyango Obama’s sister, Zeituni Onyango, also faced deportation before a Boston immigration judge granted her asylum last year. She, too, had avoided the spotlight, living in public housing in South Boston despite a deportation order. Her immigration status was leaked to the media days before her nephew’s historic election in 2008.
In contrast, Obama kept to himself in a modest house in Framingham. He worked in a small liquor store on Route 126 where locals stop in for a six-pack of beer, a bottle of wine, or scratch tickets.
“He was a great worker,” said Parimal Patel, the owner of Conti Liquors, where Obama worked for the past five years. “We’re in total shock. I wish I had known, I would have asked him to call the president and have him come down for some publicity.”
Obama last week pleaded not guilty in Framingham District Court to multiple charges, including driving under the influence, failing to yield, and negligent operation, said court documents and the Associated Press. He is being held on an immigration detainer in the Plymouth County House of Correction.
Yesterday, a portrait of his life emerged on the residential street where he lived, surrounded by other immigrants and young families.
Onyango Obama is the younger half-brother of the president’s father, Barack Obama Sr., a scholar from Kenya who was rarely in the president’s life. The president’s father came to the United States to study, but he was also a heavy drinker with a chaotic personal life. He died when he rammed his truck into a tree stump in Kenya in 1982, according to a new book, “The Other Barack: The Bold and Reckless Life of President Obama’s Father,” by Globe reporter Sally H. Jacobs.
According to the book, Onyango Obama came to the United States in 1963 as part of Tom Mboya’s airlift helping Kenyan students study in the United States. It was Barack Obama Sr.’s brotherly duty to help him, and with help from a friend, his younger brother was accepted at a boys’ school then known as Browne & Nichols, in Cambridge, Jacobs’s book reported.
Back then, the younger Obama was known as Omar Okech Obama, and he was described in the book as tall and good-natured. According to the book, he stood out as apparently the only African student at the preparatory school, where boys wore blazers to class.
Speaking in a British accent, he captivated his classmates with stories of wild animals and exploring the bush in Africa. He got involved in the campus newspaper and the debate team but was a star on the soccer field, where he had to wedge his calloused feet into cleats after years of playing barefoot back home.
For reasons that are unclear, Obama left the school after two years and enrolled in the Newton public schools in the fall of 1965. By then, his older brother had returned to Kenya, and without him, Obama appeared to falter.
He dropped out of school and changed his name to O. Onyango Obama, according to the book, which matches the name of the man arrested yesterday and the name on his driver’s license.
For a while, he lived in an apartment on Perry Street in Cambridge that became a wellknown meeting place for Kenyan students.
It is unclear what happened to him next – a relative described him to the future US president during his trip to Kenya as being “lost,” according to the president’s memoir, “Dreams from My Father.”
But Obama resurfaced in 1994, when he was apparently the clerk on duty at a Dorchester convenience store as two masked men burst in, beat him with a sawed off shotgun, and robbed him, according to Jacobs’s book.
He managed to keep a low profile for almost 20 years, until he steered his white Mitsubishi SUV outside the Chicken Bone Saloon last week.
Police said he had a blood alcohol level of 0.14 percent, which is above the legal limit of 0.08 in Massachusetts. A spokesman for the Registry of Motor Vehicles said his driving record was clean.
As he was being booked on the charges, police said Obama could make a phone call. He answered, “I think I’d like to call the White House,” according to the Framingham police report.
Patel, his boss at Conti Liquors, said Obama earned about $1,300 a month and was never any trouble.
Patel said Obama presented a valid Social Security number when he applied for the job.
“He never talked about his immigration status,” he said. “It never crossed our minds, he had aW-2 and everything.”
Patel said he used Obama as his first name, the reverse of the name on his license and in court documents. Court documents show conflicting information for his age; he is in his 60s.
Richard Nangle, spokesman for the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, said Obama had presented a valid Social Security number at least since 1992, the earliest electronic records available, to get his driver’s license.
Mark Hinkle, spokesman for the Social Security Administration, said legally admitted immigrants can obtain a Social Security number. But he would not answer questions about what happens to that number if the immigrant is ordered deported.
He referred questions to the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, which enforces immigration law.
ICE spokesman Brian P. Hale said the agency does not comment on specific cases.
The federal immigration court, which is under the Department of Justice, also declined to comment, in contrast to 2009, when the court provided detailed information on his sister’s case.
Lauren Alder Reid, counsel for legislative and public affairs at the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which runs the immigration courts, said she could not comment without a privacy waiver signed by Obama or his representative.
“Every situation is handled on a case by case basis, and some cases require privacy waivers in order for us to disclose information,” she said. She would not say why Obama’s case was different.
A spokesman for Obama’s attorney, Margaret Wong in Cleveland, who also represented his sister in immigration court, did not respond to repeated telephone calls yesterday.