Obama’s half-aunt living in U.S. illegally

The Associated Press reports that Zeituni Onyango's request for asylum was turned down in 2004 -- will there be a political impact?

Topics: 2008 Elections, Barack Obama, War Room,

It came out just a tiny bit late to be called an October Surprise, but it was a surprise nonetheless — the Associated Press reports that Barack Obama’s half-aunt, Zeituni Onyango, is currently living in the United States illegally. Onyango, the half-sister of the Democratic nominee’s father, had applied for asylum but a judge rejected her application in 2004.

The Obama campaign has released a statement, which reads “Senator Obama has no knowledge of her status but obviously believes that any and all appropriate laws be followed.” The campaign has also said it will return the $265 Onyango has donated — that donation is illegal, given her immigration status.

John McCain’s campaign is steering clear of the issue.  Time’s Michael Scherer, a former reporter for Salon, writes that McCain aide Mark Salter said, “It’s a family matter” and declined further comment.

That hasn’t stopped bloggers on the right from jumping on this. But it seems very unlikely this will be the magic bullet they’ve been looking for. I love Marc Ambinder’s take on this; I think he had it exactly right when he wrote on his blog for the Atlantic:

Republicans think anti-immigrant forces are going to be rallied by attacking a middle aged woman in her fifties? This is what’s going to swing independents back to McCain? Reminding people (a) of an actual human face on the receiving end of anti-immigration policies and (b) that the Democratic candidate is personally affected by a complicated issue facing many American families?

And assuming voters are motivated by the connection, they’re going to turn to McCain as their anti-immigrant savior?

Probably a smart move for the McCain camp to stay away from this, at least publicly, not to mention the right thing to do. I don’t doubt that there will be a serious push on this from some quarters — including, perhaps, some campaign surrogates. But it just doesn’t seem like McCain would stand to gain much from having his people out there attacking Obama over this, and if anything doing that might backfire on him.

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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