Obama's Uncle Charged with Drunk Driving

By Will Godfrey 08/30/11

Massachusetts police say Onyango Obama nearly hit a cop car while under the influence. He said, "I think I'll call the White House," but is held by immigration.

Onyango Obama is being held by ICE. Photo via

Authorities in Framingham, Mass., announced that President Barack Obama's uncle, 67-year-old Onyango Obama, was arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of drink driving. He is now being held without bail by immigration officials. The Kenyan national, who is the half-brother of the president's late father, Barack Obama Sr., allegedly failed several sobriety tests and blew 0.14 on a breathalyzer, almost double the legal limit of 0.08. According to the arresting officer, his speech was slurred and he became argumentative, first denying driving incorrectly or drinking, but later admitting to having two beers. He's charged with operating under the influence of alcohol, negligent operation of a motor vehicle and failure to yield the right of way—he apparently failed to obey a stop sign, nearly causing a cruiser to hit his SUV. Police said that when asked if he wanted to make a phone call he replied, "I think I'll call the White House."

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—an agency built up by Barack Obama, partly in response to the Mexican drug war—is currently holding his uncle after asserting that he had an earlier deportation or removal order against him. Although the White House Obamas are estranged from the arrested man—who's briefly referenced in the president's 1995 memoir Dreams From My Father, as “the uncle who had left for America 25 years ago and never came back”—the case will attract intense political scrutiny. Under President Obama, prosecutions for illegal re-entry to the US have surged—the total for his first term is set to surpass that for George W. Bush's eight years in the job. On the other hand, the Obama administration announced a softening of policy on illegal immigrants, just this month, with plans to allow many to apply for work permits—while focusing prosecutions on those who have committed crimes or blatantly breached immigration laws. Obama's uncle may be found to fit that category.

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Will Godfrey is the former editor-in-chief of TheFix. He was also the founding editor-in-chief of Substance.com, and previously co-founded a magazine for prisoners in London. His work has appeared in Salon, Pacific Standard, AlterNet and The Nation among others. He is currently the Executive Director at FILTER. You can find Will on Linkedin and Twitter.