Barack Obama's Kenyan aunt lost her bid for asylum more than four years ago, and a judge ordered her deported. Instead, Zeituni Onyango stayed, living for years in public housing.
Now, in a case that puts the president in a tough position both personally and politically, Onyango's request is being reconsidered under a little-used provision in U.S. immigration rules that allows denied asylum claims to be reheard if applicants can show that something has changed to make them eligible.
Such as the ascension of her nephew to the presidency of the world's most powerful country.
"If she goes back to Kenya, she is going to be much more in the limelight, and that, in and of itself, could put her at a greater risk. The chances of her going back and keeping a low profile are gone at this point," said Boston immigration attorney Ilana Greenstein.
Onyango, 56, the half-sister of Obama's late father, moved to the United States in 2000. Her first bid for asylum was rejected, and an immigration judge ordered her deported in 2004; she continues to live in public housing in Boston.
In December, a judge agreed to suspend the deportation order and reopen her case. An initial hearing is scheduled Wednesday in U.S. Immigration Court in Boston.
Obama has said repeatedly that he didn't know his aunt was living in the United States illegally and believes that laws covering the situation should be followed. If she wins asylum, he could look soft on immigration enforcement. If she loses, he could face criticism from immigrant advocacy groups.