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Republican lawmakers, conservatives use arrest of Obama’s uncle to attack deportation reform

Onyango Obama, half-brother to President Barack Obama’s father, was arrested last week in Massachusetts on suspicion of drunken driving. He is now being held without bail by federal immigration officials because, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), he had a prior deportation order at the time of his arrest. The Boston Herald reported on Tuesday that despite his unauthorized status and order to return to Kenya, Onyango Obama has had a Social Security number for “at least 19 years.”

The news of Onyango Obama’s arrest comes two weeks after an announcement by the secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano that many immigrants without criminal records who are up for deportation will be allowed to indefinitely stay in the United States and apply for work permits. Which immigrants will be allowed to stay will be determined according to a list of criteria outlined in a prior memo by ICE director John Morton which advised prosecutors to exercise discretion when deciding whether to place someone in deportation proceedings.

Conservatives and Republican leaders have used the news of Onyango Obama’s arrest to denounce the new deportation policy, which many of its opponents have taken to calling “administrative amnesty” (although the policy does not offer legal status or a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants, which would require an act of Congress).

Conservative media website Newsmax ran a story Monday about Onyango quoting three different Republican U.S. representatives, each of whom drew associations between Onyango Obama’s arrest and the administration’s deportation reform. One of the representatives quoted is Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a tea party movement leader and prominent opponent of any legalization of undocumented immigrants:

…King, who sits on the House immigration subcommittee, said the Onyango Obama case “raises a troubling list of questions about the potential for preferential treatment.

“It is yet another reason Congress should hold hearings to expose President Obama’s executive amnesty program,” he said. “With an existing deportation order, it is not surprising to learn that ‘Uncle Omar’ Obama told police officers that his first call would be to his nephew in the White House. Now that the executive branch has gotten into the business of undermining the rule of law, there is little question that anyone who is connected to the president, politically or otherwise, will have an advantage.”

The article also quotes Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), who called the arrest “the height of irony” and a potential “massive conflict of interest,” and Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Texas), who said, “This is one more example of where the president is in a position where he can give favorable treatment to his cronies, and in this case a relative … It’s one more step making us look like a Third World corrupt government where it’s all about who you know.”

National Review blogger Mark Krikorian, who is also the director of the Center for Immigration Studies, one of a family of restrictionist organizations founded by John Tanton, said of Onyango Obama’s arrest, “Now [President Obama] has two illegal-alien relatives,” referring to Zeituni Obama, Onyango Obama’s sister and Barack Obama’s aunt who applied for asylum in November 2008, the month her nephew was elected president.

Prominent conservative blogger Michelle Malkin echoed Krikorian, writing, “Entry into this country is no longer treated as a privilege, but an irrevocable right for every last griping Zeituni and reckless Omar.” (Omar is what Barack Obama called his uncle in his memoir.)

Cecilia Muñoz, White House director of intergovernmental affairs, wrote at the time of Napolitano’s announcement that the administration “will be reviewing the current deportation caseload to clear out low-priority cases on a case-by-case basis and make more room to deport people who have been convicted of crimes or pose a security risk. And they will take steps to keep low-priority cases out of the deportation pipeline in the first place.”

But as The Florida Independent reported last week, how the deportation reform will play out in practice is very uncertain at this time. Someone convicted of a DUI, which Onyango Obama is accused of, may or may not be a “low priority” case according to ICE’s definition.

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