The only place Kaiti Tidwell feels like she exists is in her senior classroom at Centerpoint High School.
"My whole world is stopped right now, it's just stopped," she said.
While adulthood offers most teens freedom, for Kaiti it has been the exact opposite. She's a girl without a country at a crossroads of a journey that began when she floated across the Rio Grande from Mexico, in an inner-tube, as an infant.
"There's no telling how many kids have the same story. We're kids. You can't blame a kid for coming over here at three months old and not having a country," she said, tears welling up in her eyes and frustration turning her voice raspy from its typical tenor.
Kaiti's mother worked in chicken houses in the south. But Kaiti spent much of her time with the Tidwell family.
"I went back and forth a lot. Sometimes, with my biological mother other times with the Tidwells," she said. "But finally, they adopted me to help me, especially to be able to go to school."
"It's a terrifying thing," Joann Tidwell admits. "Having charge over someone else's child, not knowing what's going to happen. We met Kaiti when she was four. After three years, we started the adoption process."
Joann flips through a scrapbook, filled with report cards and pictures of the petite Kaiti in even more miniature a form. It was the only documentation she had.
"I wondered, to myself, how am I going to prove she ever existed," Joann said. "If she goes missing, gets hurt, how am I going to prove she is even a person? So I made this scrapbook. It was our lifeline."
"But that didn't change Kaiti's status because you have to go through the process," Joann said. "She still wasn't an American citizen. She wasn't a citizen of anywhere."
While Kaiti is legally her daughter, Joann has been unable to gain citizenship for her. It's been an 11-year battle. The Tidwells have applied for Kaiti's citizenship on six separate occasions, six different applications. Thousands of dollars in legal fees, hours of heartache, a decade of tears, all to no avail.
"By Mexico not recognizing Kaiti our government won't recognize her," Joann said. "That's just the way it is. It's completely frustrating. We're tired. We're just sick of it."
"My mom took me to a lawyer and he said I didn't exist. Of course, I was four and told my mom to pinch me, I'm here!" she sighs. "That stuff, I had to learn how to live with that."
The girl without a country has lived an all-American childhood, because children don't need photo IDs or Social Security cards. She's flown in an airplane, had an after school job, and dreamed of a diploma.
"I'm just a kid like everybody else you know with dreams and ambitions and goals," she said. "But I'm also like that one fish that gets popped out of the water. There's no one really there to help."
But that dream of walking across the stage as the first high school graduate in her family is out of reach. She won't toss her cap into the air, because she'll be below the border.
"Who wants to spend their senior year knowing you don't have papers you're struggling," she laughs at herself. "It's just not fair. I'm having to go back to a country I don't know, that I can't even remember. I belong here, I belong on that stage. I should be able to graduate and turn to my mom and say, 'I did it'."
Kaiti turned 18 in November. On May 5th, she will be considered an illegal immigrant despite this being the only country she's ever known.
"After turning 18, you have 180 days to go through the process," she said. "We're waiting on a date in Mexico right now. But we don't know when that date will come. I've never been to Mexico. My mom has never been to Mexico. I'm nervous about that."
It will require missing graduation, a milestone for most American teens, so she'll have a chance to live as a free adult in the place she's called home for her entire life.
"I came here as an infant, and I didn't have a choice. Now, at 18 I have to do what I have to do. I'm going to fight for it. I believe, I have faith, that it's going to happen," she said.
She's received a temporary Mexican passport and birth certificate. But there are no guarantees Mexico will grant her citizenship, which means there are no guarantees she or her mother will ever be able to return.
Joann plans to travel to Mexico with her daughter. She knows she will probably end up selling her home, her car, and the way of life as she knows it will end. But she believes any other mother would do the same.
"As a parent, you would do anything for your children," Joann said. "If they told me, Kaiti is sick and she has to go to Mexico or she will die, I wouldn't hesitate. This is as much about her life as that is."
According to Joann, this is the final chance for Kaiti. If this doesn't work, she will never call herself an American citizen.
"This is the last strike. You can only be in the system so long, you can only make so many applications, and then our government is through. They're done," she said. "But we're applying for dual citizenship with Mexico. If they grant it, she'll already be on the way to citizenship with that."
That's not to say they both aren't terrified.
"Scary, I'm very scared," Tidwell said. "Because you're taking Kaiti out of her element, you know? I'll be okay, but I don't know about her."
When I ask Kaiti about the future, her face turns glum, but then brightens.
"I'm going to do this. Not just for me though. It's a goal of mine, but I'm also doing it for all of those other illegal students, illegal immigrants like me. I want them to know they don't have to be scared. I have done this six times, and I'm still going at it. We can never give up."
Kaiti Jasmine Posadas-Tidwell might as well be a modern day Moses. She floated across a river as an infant, to find herself in a foreign land. Taken under the wing of another family, fighting for freedom, and searching for years. The comparison, however, isn't something that bothers her.
"He never gave up. He kept looking," she smiled. "I've had that story told to me twice but I've never looked at it like that."
Click here to watch the full interview with Kaiti Tidwell.
Click here to watch the full interview with Kaiti's mom.