Texas-born teen Alecia Faith Pennington claims to be a U.S. citizen, but she can’t prove it. In a video posted to her YouTube account (see video, below), Pennington says that she has no birth certificate, no medical records, no school records, and no social security number. She's not an immigrant, but just like an undocumented Dreamer she’s struggling to function without legal status. Unable 

“I am now 19 years old, and I am unable to get a driver’s license, get a job, go to college, get on a plane, get a bank account or vote,” said Pennington, in the video. Her story exploded on the internet, grabbing international headlines. She's reportedly working as a nanny, one of the few jobs that she could find without legal status.

Alecia Pennington also says that she’s asked her parents, Lisa and James Pennington to write an affidavit, though they’ve refused to help her in the past. According to Addicting Info, Pennington’s parents are fundamentalist Christians. Her mother Lisa, apparently a strict Christian fundamentalist, is a mommy blogger whose website includes an entire section on parenting tips.

“Our children need us to discipline them,” Lisa writes in a post entitled “Are You a Mean Mom?” “They don’t know enough about how their body works or finances or responsibilities to make good decisions on their own.  So we teach them.  We create consequences.  That’s all discipline is. You create consequences and gradually they learn [...].”

“I didn’t pick this situation for myself, I just have to deal with the consequences,” said Alecia, in her video. Accroding to reports that appear to be corroborated by Lisa's blog, Alecia left home  with the help of her grandparents. To battle the bureaucratic nightmare that her parents created, Alecia created Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube accounts entitled “Help Me Prove It.”  

“I don’t know how to fix this,” she said in her video. “I want to travel, I want to get an education... I want to be a functioning American. [...] If you’ve been in a similar situation or know anyone who can help, please contact me.”

“Millions of immigrants across the U.S. feel a similar way,” said Luis Gomez, a lead immigration organizer with the Student Immigrant Movement. Luis has been in a very similar situation to Pennington. Brought to the U.S. when he was 5 years old, he grew up without papers. As a teenager, Luis realized that he couldn’t go to college. In his home state of Massachusetts, undocumented students can’t apply for loans, receive financial aid, or be eligible for in-state tuition.

In a sense, Pennington is an accidental Dreamer. Like hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who grew up in the U.S., she’s in a situation where she has no legal status thanks to the actions of her parents. Yet she speaks English and certainly feels like an American, despite lacking papers.  

“I do identify with her struggles, and what she’s going through. She’s at that age where you’re applying for a driver’s license, and trying to go to college. But she’s privileged. With the right lawyer, she could fix her situation.”

Even without documentation of citizenship, Pennington could attend college. That’s because Texas, unlike Massachusetts, allows undocumented residents to attend university. In Texas, Dreamers pay in-state tuition and receive financial aid.That is, they are eligible for the benefits that are funded by their taxes, and their parents’ taxes.

After Pennington’s plea went viral on Reddit, she received help and advice from many people in similar situations.

She’s moved forward by getting a notarized affidavit from her grandmother affirming her U.S. birth and submitting a record of a doctor’s appointment. Her parents, for reasons that are not completely clear, refuse to sign such an affidavit or provide DNA samples that would prove Pennington’s citizenship by blood (another way citizenship is passed according to U.S. law). Lastly, she contacted her representatives, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Ted Cruz, who opposes legal status for Dreamers, had not responded to the letter as of Wednesday, according to Pennington’s Facebook page. His office could not confirm receiving the letter.

"I think we should use any and all means necessary to prevent the president from illegally granting amnesty," said Cruz, in a press conference last September. At the same event, he said that it would be "appropriate" to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (or DACA), Obama’s temporary legal status program for Dreamers.

Luis Gomez, the immigration activist, is a DACA recipient. His father was deported to Guatemala in 2009, and his mother spent 3 months in an immigration jail before securing release and permanent residency. For Gomez, immigration status is a series of logistical hurdles constantly and arbitrarily shifting. The next jump will be set by the 2016 elections.

“[DACA] is temporary,” said Gomez. “In 2016, the new president could say ‘no DACA' and I would be undocumented.” Even with his current status, Gomez's options are limited. He can work and pay taxes, but he’s not eligible for any of the benefits that those tax dollars support. He can’t afford to attend university in Massachusetts. That’s one of the reasons why he’s motivated to support the Student Immigrant Movement’s bill in the Massachusetts legislature, co­sponsored by Senator Sonia Chang Diaz and Representative Denise Provost which, if passed, would provide tuition and financial aid to qualified Dreamers.

“I definitely didn’t want to become an activist in high school,” said Gomez, who now finds great meaning in his organizing work. “I wanted to become an electrical engineer."

As of publication time, Alecia Pennington had not responded to multiple requests from the Latin Times for comment.

Pennington's plea on YouTube:


UPDATE: this article was changed on 2/13/2015 to include Pennington's work as a nanny, as reported by the Daily Mail.