“My name is Alecia Faith Pennington and I’m a U. S. citizen by birth.”
That’s how Alecia Pennington’s YouTube video begins; the 19-year-old Texas native declares with a quiet confidence that she’s a citizen of the United States, born on American soil.
However, there’s one big problem: Alecia can’t prove that she’s American citizen because the U. S. government has no official record of her being born.
At least, that’s what Alecia claims in her 90-second first person viral plea for help.
According to Alecia, her inability to prove she’s a legal American is because she was born at home and her parents—James and Lisa Pennington—never bothered to file any official record of their daughter’s birth.
Alecia’s parents deny those claims. Lisa Pennington, the mother of nine children and a popular Christian blogger who uses her platform to sell essential oils, wrote on her blog’s Facebook page that her daughter’s video “is untrue,” and added, “maybe you should check your facts before just believing what you see online.”
In an email to The Daily Beast, James Pennington, a tax lawyer, wrote that, “to the best of our knowledge, the midwife applied for a birth certificate.”
However, neither James nor Lisa seem able to explain why, when Alecia allegedly contacted the office of vital records, they informed her there was no record of her birth.
In a now deleted video response to her daughter, Lisa said that the only thing true about Alecia’s claim was the fact that she was born at home. Before Lisa deleted it from YouTube, one viewer transcribed the message in its entirety. Regarding the birth certificate, Lisa added, “We do not know what information was put on [the birth certificate] and we do not have any copies of that. We are unaware of what was filed when she was born but we have no interest in holding anything back from her and we know you can get a delayed birth certificate which would be a great option for her.”
However, possessing no birth certificate is just the beginning of Alecia’s documentation woes. Her parents also neglected to get her a social security number. That seems to be intentional. James told The Daily Beast that he and Lisa, both devout Christians, have “a religious objection to obtaining Social Security Numbers for our children,” but offered no explanation why.
Early on in the video, Alecia tells us that she was homeschooled. Which, despite her mother’s claims about the video’s facts being false, is indeed true. In fact, James and Lisa are influential leaders in Texas’s home education network. But according to Alecia, because she was homeschooled her education is undocumented. In other words, she has no school records.
Alecia also says that no medical records are on file because she’s never visited a doctor’s office or hospital.
“Thankfully, [Alecia] has always been in excellent health and has had no need to go see a doctor,” he said, and added: “She did receive orthodontic treatment.”
After a judge from the county in which she was born denied her application for a delayed birth certificate due to insufficient proof, Alecia made the decision to put her story online. Since posting her video on Feb. 9, her appeal to #HelpMeProveIt has been viewed nearly 1 million times.
Without official documentation, Alecia says, “I’m unable to get a driver’s license, get a job, go to college, get on a plane, get a bank account, or vote.”
Though her parents both think that a midwife possibly filed an application for their daughter’s birth certificate, some speculate that Alecia not having an I.D. was intentional. Believe it or not, among homeschooling families “not providing children with identification” is something that happens on purpose.
In fact, Ryan Stollar, the Executive Director of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out (HARO) and editor of the blog, Homeschoolers Anonymous, calls Alecia’s predicament “identification abuse.” According to a 2014 HARO-sanctioned survey, identification abuse isn’t a widespread problem, though Stollar says it’s not nearly as uncommon as one might believe.
“It can be done for a number of reasons,” Stollar told The Daily Beast. “Anti-government attitudes, wanting to be ‘off grid,’ not wanting their children to become independent or attend college, a belief that any form of government-issued identification is a ‘mark of the Beast,’ and so forth. But I think the most common reason it’s done is to control children and force them to do or be what the parents want.”
Though James Pennington probably wouldn’t call it “identification abuse,” he agrees with Stollar that it does happen. “[Not providing your children with identification] is not a popular trend, but it’s not unheard of.”
But Stollar says that homeschooling isn’t the root problem here, but rather the parents who use homeschooling as a method to “isolate and control their children and impose a totalistic atmosphere.” He adds, “If Alecia was in a different school environment (even a different homeschool environment), she would have better access to tools necessary for entering her adult life well-prepared.”
According to James and Lisa, they’ve only seen their daughter twice since September 2014. That was when, with the help of her maternal grandparents, Alecia left her parents and eight siblings without any notice. A few weeks after her daughter’s exodus, Lisa wrote about the experience on her blog.
“[I grieve the] selfish loss of wanting my life to be a certain way,” wrote Lisa, “a happy family, loving one another, all of my children that care for each other and respect their parents. That is gone for me. I may never have that and you know what? It’s OK.”
After Lisa pulled her video response off the Internet—a decision that, according to James, was because they “decided it would be better to address [Alecia] directly”—James recorded a direct response to Alecia.
In his response, James says that he and Lisa will do whatever necessary to help Alecia secure proof that she’s a real American. He references how he’s helped several of his other kids secure their documentation, which begs the question how many times did that midwife forget to file a birth certificate?
“We knew nothing of her attempts to get a birth certificate until recently,” James told The Daily Beast. “From the day she left until now, we have offered our help to her… but she has rejected our offers of help.”
Some say the Penningtons are sending mixed messages. One of those mixed messages is that somebody in the family purchased the domain HelpMeProveIt.com, soon as Alecia released her video. When asked about why he bought the domain, James tweeted “Since she asked us not to contact her via phone, text or email, we wanted to post some helpful information where she would find it.”
It’s hard to know what Alecia thinks of her parents’ responses. Though she declined our request for an interview, when pushed for an update about whether or not she’s found somebody who can help her secure an official documentation, this was her response via email: “I have found a lawyer, and things are looking good!”