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How do you solve a problem like Uncle Omar?

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Jimmy Carter had brother Billy. Barack Obama has Uncle Omar. Carter’s headline-grabbing younger brother produced countless headaches for the White House as his elder brother fought for reelection in 1980. President Obama finds his family squarely in the middle of the debate over illegal immigration again just as the 2012 election campaign heats up.

Framingham police arrested Onyango Obama, the president’s 67-year-old uncle, for driving under the influence after almost crashing into a police car. Officers then discovered that immigration officials had a warrant out for his arrest for avoiding a deportation order since 1992.

The elder Obama, known as Omar in the family, decided to make his one phone call from the police station count. "I think I will call the White House," he told police.

Somehow the president’s uncle, who is the half brother of the president’s late father, managed to get a Social Security number, a job, and hold a driver’s license for nearly 20 years. He worked for five years at Conti’s Liquors in Framingham.  His boss, store owner Parimal Patel, called him “probably the best employee I’ve had.”  He has had past brushes with law enforcement, however, including two alcohol sales violations.

Will the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement send the president’s elderly relative back to Kenya in an election year? The Obama case will certainly test the revamped “Secure Communities” program. Growing numbers of police departments, particularly those in areas with large immigrant populations, had balked at the federal initiative which included crosschecking the fingerprints of anyone arrested with immigration records. State and local officials complained that the program netted otherwise law-abiding undocumented people, who then faced deportation after being cited for offenses like minor traffic violations, rather than hard core criminals.  As a result, several governors, including the president’s good friend Deval Patrick, decided to opt out of the program.

The recent modifications to the program allow for “prosecutorial discretion.”  States can no longer opt out. But instead of deporting undocumented people on a minor infraction, immigration officials can shift their focus to individuals with criminal records who threaten public safety or national security. Reaction to the changes has been mixed. The moves drew applause from the Boston Globe and jeers from the Lowell Sun. What the courts ultimately decide regarding the elder Obama may hinge on whether he is viewed as a serious threat to public safety.

Obama’s uncle is the second of the president’s Kenyan relatives to run afoul of immigration laws. Zeituni Onyango, the president’s aunt who had been living illegally in Boston since 2004, obtained asylum two years ago after a federal judge decided that she could be a target for harassment or worse if she returned to Kenya.

In keeping with his saying-less-is-more playbook, the president has yet to weigh in on his uncle’s predicament. But Republican presidential contenders aren’t likely to let a case tailor made for looking tough on immigration slip by. Fox News is already piling on. The Boston Herald has linked the elder Obama to Nicholas Guaman, an undocumented Ecuadorian charged with the vehicular homicide in the death of Milford resident Matthew Denice. The headline on a Herald column charges Uncle Omar with “Living the American Dream illegally.”

President Obama has managed to deflect the family controversies involving his aunt and his own birth certificate. Indeed, in a magnificent stroke of timing, the president released the long form of his Hawaiian birth certificate several days before the killing of Osama bin Laden, causing the long-running birther controversy to disintegrate.  However, the president may not have the luxury of letting the furor over his undocumented uncle percolate without a riposte.

                                                                                                                                                --GABRIELLE GURLEY


IRENE

Scores of farmers in western Massachusetts have lost their harvest after hundreds of acres of crops were destroyed by flooding along the Connecticut River in the wake of Hurricane Irene. Details of the damage in Greenfield and other areas of Franklin County are here.  Accounts from the Berkshires are here. Attleboro residents turn on National Grid, and the utility faces scrutiny from Foxboro officials for powering up Gillette Stadium before bringing senior housing units back online. On the Cape, residents are frustrated with NStar.

The Globe reports from Rutland, one of the Vermont towns that has been hit hard. More on Vermont here.

Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan, who campaigned for the office on a promise of openness, imposed a gag order and threatened city department managers with disciplinary actions if anyone other than him talked with the press about preparations for the predicted hurricane.

Now that the weather forecasters had their turn, the economists step forward to offer their forecast on the economic impact of the storm. The New York Times says the storm will wind up being one of the 10 costliest natural disasters in the country’s history.

BEACON HILL

State Auditor Suzanne Bump finds special-ed agencies misused at least $37 million and calls the corruption “dirtier than the Big Dig,” the Lowell Sun reports. Here is the Globe story on Bump’s report.

State Sen. Steve Tolman is poised to become the next president of the state AFL-CIO after the only other contender for the post abandons his campaign and throws his support to the veteran Brighton lawmaker.

State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell from Methuen sends a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick asking him to press for a cap on the number of liquor licenses in Lawrence and to enforce 1 a.m. closing times at places selling liquor. The Eagle-Tribune reports that Lawrence’s senator and rep say the letter is nothing new.

The Patriot Ledger comes out in support of the casino bill but with a call for a few changes, including eliminating the 9 percent set-aside for racetracks which they call the “Bob DeLeo tax.”

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

State and local officials prep for ethanol trains coming into Revere, CommonWealth reports.

Five months after an attempt to privatize Salem’s municipal golf course failed, city officials want to hire a private manager to work with the park department, the Salem News reports. Boston abandoned private managers at its two courses several years ago and has slowly brought them to a break-even point, CommonWealth reported recently.

Lynn city councilors grumble about the parking department director’s decision to eliminate one job in his office, redistribute that job’s duties to others, and give the remaining workers promotions and raises, the Item reports.

The Brockton School Committee is exploring expanding background checks for prospective employees, which is currently limited to the state’s CORI system, to include out-of-state criminal backgrounds.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Minorities are the majority in eight US metro regions including Washington, New York , and Las Vegas.

US Rep. Andre Carson, an Indiana Democrat and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, says that members of Congress in the tea party movement want to see African Americans “hanging from a tree.”

ELECTION 2012

Not-yet-Senate-candidate Elizabeth Warren sits down with Globe reporters and gets a front-page story out of it as well as this Brian McGrory piece, in which the Metro columnist plants a very wet kiss on the Harvard Law professor with down-home Oklahoma spunk.  

Although his hurricane performance again stoked talk of a run for president, the Daily Beast reports that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says he doesn’t “feel it.” Rarely has a fat man tried harder not to get a date, the DB says.

ProPublica offers a guide to the best coverage of Mitt Romney and his record.
Time reports Team Obama finds hope in a history lesson: Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan both won reelection amid substantial economic suffering.

Jon Keller says while he is not a fan of US Rep. Michele Bachmann, he says the media has unfairly “slimed” the presidential contender for what was clearly a joke about Hurricane Irene being a political message from God.

Rick Perry doesn’t use political leverage to profit off real estate deals. He’s just really, really lucky, year in and year out.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Add another $1.75 billion to the stack of legal claims related to soured mortgage securities that  Bank of America is facing. The nation’s biggest bank is in the FDIC’s sights as well.

The Wall Street Journal profiles Edward DeMarco, the accidental regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the most powerful force in the nation’s beleaguered housing market.

When it comes to righting the economy, Federal Reserve officials are at loggerheads.

EDUCATION

West Bridgewater officials say they are shocked after a former teacher and track coach resigned after being arrested by federal officials on child pornography charges.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Actress Daryl Hannah’s arrest got all the attention, but the protests over a proposed pipeline running from Canada’s tar sands fields to refineries on the Gulf Coast reflect rising frustration with President Obama’s go-slow environmental approach, the Daily Beast reports.

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