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Adopted son of a Vietnam War veteran grows up in Medina, now faces deportation

Adopted son of a Vietnam War veteran grows up in Medina, now faces deportation

By Donna J. Miller, The Plain Dealer

on September 17, 2013 at 4:38 PM, updated September 20, 2013 at 12:38 PM

Pattrick Henderson celebrated his eldest daughter's high school graduation last year.

Family photo

MEDINA, Ohio — A 42-year-old father of five and adopted son of an American serviceman sits in a jail cell awaiting deportation to Panama, where he was born and abandoned.

The possible deportation stems from a mistake long ago on Pattrick Henderson's adoption form that prevented the Buckeye High School graduate from becoming a U.S. citizen.

Now some Buckeye alumni and friends have launched an effort to try and prevent the deportation from happening.

Henderson was 18 months old in 1973, when he was adopted by Army Special Forces member Edgar Henderson and his wife. They were stationed in Panama until Edgar Henderson retired the following year and returned to Medina County, where Pattrick grew up.

When he was 13, Pattrick Henderson learned that he was adopted, but it wasn't until he tried to enlist in the Army that he found out that he is not a U.S. citizen. Attempts to obtain citizenship failed because of an error in his adoption paperwork, which lists two different dates of birth for him. And the family couldn't afford to travel to Panama to try an get the document corrected.

Henderson has struggled since graduating from Buckeye High School in York Township, west of Medina, to find employment with only a green card and no driver's license.

His supporters say he has been a good father to his five daughters, and they have rallied around him since his Aug. 19 arrest using social media to publicize his plight.

"In 2001, Pattrick restarted the process to U.S. citizenship on his own," said Shawn Riley, who grew up with Henderson and became his best friend. "While being interviewed by immigration, Pattrick admitted to voting during a class field trip in 1990. This stopped his path to citizenship.

"Why he chose to vote, I do not know, but I imagine he felt as American as anyone born in the United States. After all, he went through Buckeye schools from kindergarten through graduation. His dad was a military man. He knew nothing else but life in Ohio, in America."

Part of that life includes six months in prison in 2004 for failing to pay child support. And there were misdemeanor convictions -- in 2009 for attempted child endangering, in 2000 for possessing drug paraphernalia and using marijuana and in 1991 for assault, according to court records.

Then there was the failure to appear in immigration court for a recent hearing, which resulted in his arrest. He didn't make it to the Cleveland courtroom because the car of the Canton woman who was supposed to take him there broke down, Henderson's supporters say.

"Mr. Henderson has multiple prior convictions for crimes including assault, nonsupport of dependents and attempted child endangerment," Immigration & Customs Enforcement spokesman Khaalid Walls said this afternoon. "He will remain in ICE custody pending the outcome of his immigration case."

Riley, retired from the Air Force, was unaware of some of Henderson's criminal history, but he knew about the marijuana and child support issues when he created a Facebook page titled "Stop Pattrick Henderson's Deportation Now."

It has more than 560 members, including Annette Zuber Urban, whose post reads, "I am VERY proud to be a Buckeye alumni today! We have all come to this group page to help one of our own in a time of need. Praying!"

Friend Michelle Jobe-Tansey said in an interview, "While Pattrick's limited financial resources have contributed to his troubles, because of his caring character, sense of humor and warm heart, he is rich in supporters and friends."

The mother of Henderson's two eldest daughters, now 18 and 19, said their relationship ended because he wasn't working, while she worked full-time. And she said the child endangerment charge resulted from the son of Henderson's ex-girlfriend saying Henderson put his hand over the boy's mouth.

"All I can say is that Patt has never hurt our kids or any of my nieces and nephews that grew up around him and still call him uncle Patt," Billie Woodrum said. "He's done nothing to deserve deportation."

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown's office is looking into the case. And Henderson's attorney, Tanya Linetsky, has asked an immigration judge in Cleveland to re-open Henderson's case. The judge granted the request, but a court date hasn't been set and Henderson remains at the Geauga County Jail.

"He tries to stay upbeat and hopeful, but he's had some rough days," said Becky Rich, 40, of Canton.

She and Henderson live together in Canton, after meeting six years ago through Rich's friend, Woodrum, the mother of the eldest daughters. Rich is helping Henderson raise his youngest daughter, now 6.

Henderson's father, who served in Vietnam, is 82. He and his wife Hedwig still live in York Township, where they raised Pattrick, who had been abandoned on the doorstep of an American Red Cross office in Panama.

"Pattrick should have been deemed a U.S. citizen," Riley said. "He should have been able to vote.

"Our country should have done more to ease the immigration process for a veteran trying to gain citizenship for his foreign-adopted son, who wanted to follow in his dad's footsteps and serve in the Army."

Plain Dealer researcher Joellen Corrigan contributed to this story.

2013 Sep 17