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Zeituni OnyangoPresident Barack Obama’s aunt Zeituni Onyango died early Tuesday morning in her sleep in a Boston rehabilitation center at age 61.  She became ill in January and had been treated in recent months for cancer and respiratory problems.

Aunt Zeituni Onyango was denied asylum in the United States but stayed illegally for years. She moved from Kenya to the U.S. in 2000 and was denied asylum by an immigration judge in 2004.  She remained in the country illegally, living in Boston public housing.  Her immigration status was reported by The Associated Press days before President Obama’s election in 2008.

She finally was granted asylum in 2010 by a judge who said she could be in danger if she returned to Kenya because of her relationship with President Obama. President Obama did not intervene in her immigration case.

In President Obama’s memoir “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance,”  he affectionately referred to Onyango as Auntie Zeituni and described meeting her during his 1988 trip to Kenya. While living with his father, Barack Obama Sr., in Kenya she helped care for his half-brothers and sister.