MAY 18, 2010
After two rare secret court hearings, President Obama’s illegal immigrant aunt has been granted political asylum by the same judge who deported her last spring after noting that she had previously ignored multiple removal orders.
The judge’s abrupt reversal will remain a mystery because it all took place behind closed doors, even though the Justice Department’s immigration court manual—as well as a federal appellate court—says such proceedings should be open. Yet the most “transparent administration in history” arranged for the deportation hearings to be held out of public view.
That’s probably because the commander-in-chief’s aunt, Zeituni Polly Onyango, has essentially flipped the finger at U.S. immigration laws for years, twice ignoring deportation orders (in 2003 and 2004) before getting busted again in 2008. Onyango has for years lived in a South Boston public housing facility and was denied yet another stay of deportation during her nephew’s presidential campaign.
Last spring Onyango managed to get a private court hearing to address the multiple removal charges against her. The judge granted her 10 months to fight deportation to her native Kenya, but no further details were made available about the closed-door proceeding. A few months ago Onyango had yet another highly unusual closed-door court date, which culminated with this week’s asylum. The White House insists that auntie is not getting any special treatment and denies that the president is in any way contributing to her legal costs.
Unlike criminal courts, defendants in immigration cases aren’t entitled to legal representation and must pay for it themselves. How an indigent illegal immigrant, living off of U.S. taxpayers, is financing the costly private
As for the closed hearings, the Justice Department claims that they’re “not uncommon” but the reality is that they are. In fact, the Executive Office of Immigration Review, the Justice Department agency that manages immigration courts, allows closed removal hearings in only a handful of instances that don’t seem to apply to Obama’s aunt.
In Onyango’s case U.S. Immigration Court Judge Leonard Shapiro refuses to reveal his reasons for closing the hearing. Citing immigrants’ rights, federal legislators have fought the public’s exclusion from immigration courts, reminding that a federal regulation requires proceedings to be open in order to protect the petitioners.
A federal appellate court has also ruled that public access undoubtedly enhances the quality of deportation proceedings by acting as a check on the actions of the Executive and ensuring that proceedings are conducted fairly and properly. Open hearings also enhance the perception of integrity and fairness, the court points out.
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