Without birth records, Minnesota woman fights to prove U.S. citizenship

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Without proper documentation of her birth, 40-year-old Michelle Henderson has been fighting the U.S. government her entire life to prove she is a citizen.

Michelle “Shelli” Henderson, 40, was born to American parents and lived in the United States most of her life.

“I was raised here, I have a SSN, I pay taxes, I’m a productive citizen,” the surgical assistant and mother of three said.

By her and her family’s standard’s she is a true-blue Minnesotan--even though she was welcomed into the world in Tijuana, Mexico for two reasons.

“One, because it was cheaper than having it in the U.S.," she said. "Number two, my dad wanted to buy land there and he couldn’t do that unless he was a parent, or a child or yourself a Mexican citizen.” 

Before her second birthday, tragedy struck her family.

“My dad died in 1978 and after that my mom, my brother and I moved back here in Minnesota,” she said. “I have a driver’s license, I went to school here, I have student loans."

But by the U.S. government’s standards, Henderson says, she doesn’t exist. All of her formal birth records have been missing since she was a toddler.

“There’s a form you have to fill out and send in to get Mexico to send my records to the United States and my mom never filled out that form and sent it in so the United States has no record of me being born,” she said.

Over the last decade Henderson has applied for a passport four times and has made several attempts to prove she was born to American parents.

“[I’ve completed] a birth certificate for American born abroad--no record of birth. My mom has even tried to re-fill out that form but I’m over 18 so she can’t,” Henderson said. “I sent in every record I could find of myself, my mom, my biological father, my step dad, my children, my marriage, my divorce, everything that had some kind of legal document I sent in."

Each time she’s applied for her passport--even with a sworn affidavit in front of a passport official from her mother--she’s been denied.

“I’m apparently not legal because I have a birth certificate or at some point I may not be but I can go get legal documents for other people,” she said.

Over the last few months Henderson’s concern has grown. 

“With Trump being president now, as of Jan. 1, I can’t even get on an airplane,” she said.

The key question--"Were there any witnesses?"--has answers.

Her mother was there, but she doesn't count as a witness. Henderson's father was there, but he has since passed away. All of her other relatives were in the United States at the time--except her brother, but there's a catch.

"Um, he was a year and a half old," Henderson said. "So he might not remember."

Which means, effectively, she has no witnesses to verify her birth.

“I want my kids to know if and when I die I can get a United States death certificate,” Henderson said. “When [I’ve sent] them every single documentation of proof that my parents were both American citizens at the time of my birth, I don’t think that should be a problem."

Senator Amy Klobuchar’s office is currently working to resolve Henderson’s case.