HENDERSON, November 2 – Barack Obama’s White House campaign said Saturday that it was returning a small donation from his Boston-based Kenyan aunt after questions were raised over her US immigration status.
Aides said Mr Obama had not been in touch with his late father’s sister, Zeituni Onyango, 56, for at least four years, and questioned reporting about her residency status so close to Tuesday’s election against Republican John McCain.
Mr Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said the campaign was returning 265 dollars donated by the aunt to her nephew’s White House bid.
Foreigners cannot donate money to US presidential candidates. But aides refused to say whether returning the money was an acknowledgement that the aunt was an illegal alien.
"Given the information that has been brought to our attention, the contributions are being refunded," Mr LaBolt said in a statement, without elaborating.
Mr Obama’s chief strategist David Axelrod would not comment on the aunt’s immigration status but said Mr Obama last met her for sure at his Senate inauguration ceremony in 2004.
"It’s not a real close relationship. They have not been in close touch," he told reporters after Obama addressed 15,000 supporters in Henderson, Nevada.
Mr Axelrod ascribed ulterior motives to the revelations after The Associated Press reported that Onyango had remained living in Boston despite having her request for asylum rejected by an immigration judge four years ago.
"The American people are pretty suspicious of things that are dumped in the marketplace 72 hours out from Election Day," the top aide said.
In a separate statement, Obama spokesman Bill Burton said: "Senator Obama has no knowledge of her status but obviously believes that any and all appropriate laws be followed."
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement refused to confirm or deny the report about Onyango, who is part of a large extended family on Obama’s father’s side spread across Kenya, the United States and Europe.
"We do not discuss the details of any individual’s status or their case," ICE spokeswoman Kelly Nantel in Washington told AFP.
Mark Salter, a senior advisor to Obama’s White House rival John McCain said the Republican would not comment on the story. "It’s a family matter," he said.