How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

The Obamas as just another mixed-status family

Photo by Stephen Zacharias/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A mural in Winnipeg, Canada, October 2009

The recent arrest of President Obama's half-uncle, who is being held by immigration officials for lack of legal status, casts light on a facet of the immigration story that is little-discussed but extremely commonplace: the prevalence of mixed-status families.

Onyango Obama, the 67-year-old half-brother of Obama's late father, was arrested last week near Boston on suspicion of drunk driving. According to reports, he failed to comply with a deportation order almost 20 years ago, and has lived under the radar since. He is the second Obama relative in recent years to make headlines for being undocumented; his sister Zeituni Onyango, whose story was leaked to the media shortly before the 2008 election, also faced deportation before she was granted asylum last year.

This particular family of Kenyan immigrants is noteworthy, of course, because it is the president's extended family. But their situation is hardly unique. It's a given in many immigrant families that someone - a parent, and aunt or uncle, a cousin - is undocumented, and having relatives in the United States is not enough to allow them to legalize, nor is marriage to a U.S. citizen.