President Barack Obama’s 61-year-old half-aunt, Zeituni Onyango, passed away on Monday after losing her battle with cancer.
Onyango, who was the half-sister of Obama’s late father, received national attention days before her nephew was elected president in 2008 after a federal law enforcement official leaked that she came to the United States from Kenya illegally in 2000. She was denied asylum on three different occasions for nearly a decade but remained living in Boston.
She finally won asylum on her fourth try in 2010 after a judge said that she would be in danger if she returned to Kenya due to her ties with Obama. Her Cleveland-based immigration attorney, Margaret W. Wong, later helped her obtain a green card.
“She’s been ill for quite some time. She didn’t like people to know, because she is so strong,” Wong told the Boston Herald. “I don’t think she accepted she was dying. She just kept thinking she needs to go on.”
Onyango has been ill since January and passed away in her sleep in a Boston rehabilitation center, Wong said.
In Obama’s 1995 memoir “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance,” he vividly described meeting Onyango during a 1988 trip to Kenya and referred to her as Aunt Zeituni.
Funeral arrangements were not immediately made public. The White House had no immediate reaction to Onyango’s death on Tuesday.