Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama said Saturday he did not know his aunt from Kenya was living in the United States illegally and believes that laws covering the situation should be followed, AP reported.
The Associated Press found that Obama's aunt had been instructed to leave the country four years ago by an immigration judge who rejected her request for asylum from her native Kenya. The woman, Zeituni Onyango, is living in public housing in Boston and is the half-sister of Obama's late father.
A statement given to the AP by Obama's campaign said, "Senator Obama has no knowledge of her status but obviously believes that any and all appropriate laws be followed."
Traveling with Obama in Nevada, campaign strategist David Axelrod declined to elaborate on the statement, but said: "I think people are suspicious about stories that surface in the last 72 hours of a national campaign."
An adviser to Republican John McCain's campaign, Mark Salter, said he had no comment on the reports about Obama's relative. "It's a family matter," Salter said.
Rudy Giuliani, campaigning for McCain in Henderson, Nevada, said in an interview with The Associated Press that Obama's aunt should be off limits in the campaign. "I don't think families should be hounded," he said. "I don't think Barack Obama has anything to do with a relative being here illegally."
The Obama campaign said it was returning $260 that Onyango had contributed in small increments to his presidential bid over several months. Federal election law prohibits foreigners from making political donations. Onyango listed her employer as the Boston Housing Authority and last gave $5 on Sept. 19.
Onyango, 56, is part of Obama's large paternal family, with many related to him by blood whom he never knew growing up.
Obama's father, Barack Obama Sr., left the future presidential nominee when the boy was 2, and they reunited only once - for a monthlong visit when Obama was 10. The elder Obama lived most of his life in Kenya, where he fathered six other sons and a daughter with three other wives. He died in a car crash in 1982.
Obama was raised for the most part by his mother and her parents in Hawaii. He first met his father's side of the family when he traveled to Africa 20 years ago. He referred to Onyango as "Auntie Zeituni" when describing the trip in his memoir, saying she was "a proud woman."
Obama's campaign said he had seen her a few times since that meeting, beginning with a return trip to Kenya with his future wife, Michelle, in 1992. Onyango visited the family in Chicago on a tourist visa at Obama's invitation about nine years ago, the campaign said, stopping to visit friends on the East Coast before returning to Kenya.