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November 28, 2014

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White House changes story on Obama’s uncle

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AP Photo/Steven Senne

Onyango Obama, President Barack Obama’s Kenyan-born uncle, arrives at U.S. Immigration Court for a deportation hearing Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013 in Boston.

WASHINGTON — The White House said Thursday that President Barack Obama briefly lived with an uncle who faced deportation from the United States, correcting its previous statements that the president had never met Onyango Obama.

The 69-year-old, Kenyan-born half-brother of Obama's estranged father was granted permission this week to stay in the U.S. after ignoring a deportation order two decades ago. The uncle is also known as Omar Obama.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said that when the case first arose, officials looked for records of a meeting but never directly asked the president.

"When Omar Obama said the other day, and there were reports that he had said the other day that President Obama, back when he was a law school student, had stayed with him in Cambridge, I thought it was the right thing to do to go ask him," Carney said. "Nobody had asked him in the past, and the president said that he, in fact, had met Omar Obama when he moved to Cambridge for law school and that he stayed with him for a brief period of time until his — the president's apartment was ready."

Carney said that after that, uncle and nephew saw each other once every few months while the younger Obama was in Cambridge. Carney said that after Obama attended law school, the two fell out of touch.

"The president has not seen Omar Obama in 20 years and has not spoken with him in roughly 10 years," Carney said.

During his deportation hearing, Onyango Obama told Judge Leonard Shapiro that he graduated from high school in Cambridge, then attended Boston University, where he received a degree in philosophy. He said that for years he has managed a family-owned liquor store in Framingham, just west of Boston. He also said he has worked for decades to help African immigrants find housing and settle in the U.S.

He testified that he hasn't been back to Kenya since he entered the U.S. and said it would be difficult for him to return after all these years.

His immigration status didn't become public until his 2011 drunken-driving arrest in Framingham. Police said after the arrest he told them, "I think I will call the White House."

Asked about the exchange by a prosecutor on Tuesday, he said he might have said that but couldn't recall.

The charge was dismissed after he completed a year of probation and 14 weeks of alcohol education classes.

He also testified that President Obama stayed with him for three weeks in Cambridge while the president was a student at Harvard Law School.

"In our tradition, your brother's kids are your kids as well," he said after the hearing.

Carney said the legal issues surrounding Obama's uncle was handled appropriately by the White House.

"Absolutely zero interference," he said.

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