Superheroes and Immigration Status

One of the most frequent questions this blog has generated, both in comments and in emails, is “What about Superman’s immigration status?”

This is that post.

Immigration law is a purely federal matter and is codified in Title 8 of the United States Code, particularly Chapter 12. Regulations on the subject–the practical implementation of statutes–are found in Title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations, especially Chapter 5. There are enough different situations created by various superhero characters that we can really put these laws through their paces.

This is a subject that inherently touches on international issues, but since most of the main comic book stories are either set in the United States or completely off-planet, this post will limit itself to discussions of United States law.

The United States immigration process is really, really difficult. We’ll make reference to that chart later.

I. Superheroes Born Elsewhere but Raised in the US, e.g. Superman

8 U.S.C. § 1181 provides that with certain exceptions,

[N]o immigrant shall be admitted into the United States unless at the time of application for admission he

(1) has a valid unexpired immigrant visa or was born subsequent to the issuance of such visa of the accompanying parent, and

(2) presents a valid unexpired passport or other suitable travel document, or document of identity and nationality, if such document is required under the regulations issued by the Attorney General

This creates immediate problems for Superman. He’s not going to have any documentation, as he never went through customs and thus never had an opportunity to acquire the appropriate documentation. The basic story is that Superman, (original name Kal-El), was born on the planet Krypton just before it was destroyed by… something. Depends who you ask. Anyway, Kal-El’s parents put him on a starship escape pod which crash landed in rural Kansas, where Jonathan Kent found him and took him home, raising him as Clark Kent, and only learning later about his super powers.

The actual history of Superman comics is of note here, as Action Comics #1 was published in 1938, when the country, still reeling from the lingering effects of the Great Depression, was smacked by the Recession of 1937. Unemployment was well north of 15%. The Dust Bowl was recent history. So the idea that a motorist in Kansas would discover an abandoned baby on the side of the road was depressingly plausible. In an age when immigration laws were far more lax than they are today, no one was going to ask any questions about the origin of such a child or his lack of a birth certificate.

Granted, the timing would mean that Kal-El would have crashed to earth sometime earlier in the twentieth century, but it seems plausible that the environment in which the comic was actually published would have a lot to do with the way original readers interpreted things.

Of course, recent rewrites do not necessarily enjoy the benefits of those earlier legal environments. Adopting a random infant is actually a lot harder to do these days, as state laws about that sort of thing create a lot of hoops for potential parents to jump through. The upshot is that some kind of documentation would be needed for an infant who basically appears out of thin air. That would require clever forgeries at the very least.

Or a retcon. In at least one version of Superman’s origin story, Jor-El did not place him in the rocket as an infant, but Kal-El was actually in a “birthing matrix” and was thus “born” on Earth, making him a natural born citizen of the United States and thus eligible to be President. Or at least that’s what the Supreme Court held in a 9-0 ruling. Depending on your views of Supreme Court jurisprudence, this may not even be the most fanciful thing they’ve ever done.

II. Adult Alien Superheroes

But this is also an issue for other characters. Kurt Wagner is a German national. Piotr Rasputin is Russian. Professor Xavier could theoretically have sponsored them as an employer under 8 U.S.C. § 1151(d), making them eligible for an employment-based immigrant visa. Take a look at the chart linked above. Persons with “extraordinary ability” are given preferential treatment in the immigration system (8 U.S.C. § 1153(b)(1)(a)) and are eligible for E1 visas. So any superhero connected to some kind of organization, public or private, e.g. the X-Men, the Avengers, the Justice League of America, etc., will probably be able to get this done pretty easily, as they’ve got an employer willing to put their extraordinary abilities to immediate use for the benefit of the country.

Still, the process is not immediate. Visas are issued on a priority basis, but getting a green card–i.e. permission to reside and work in the US permanently–can take a year or two, and actual citizenship can take up to seven years.

One final point: a lot of super characters travel really fast, and do so using their own means of transportation. Superman flies. Nightcrawler teleports. The Flash simply runs really fast, etc. Going from Metropolis to Ohio isn’t that big of a deal, as travel within the United States can be done almost entirely without government authorization, particularly if you aren’t using a commercial airline. But in addition to massive violations of airspace (there’s another post!), simply showing up in another country without going through customs is illegal. Wolverine deciding to go to Alberta to discover his origins is all well and good, but he’s going to have to cross the border somewhere (probably North Dakota), and that means either showing a passport or jumping the border. In essence, a law abiding superhero is going to need official documents, and as discussed earlier, that has its own problems.

III. Foreign Dignitaries

But what about T’Challa, Namor, or even Victor von Doom? All of these are either heads of state or at the very least official representatives of their respective governments.

Now we get into the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which forms the basis for diplomatic immunity. But while diplomatic status does grant one certain advantages while on US soil, it does not in fact guarantee one admission to the country or provide the right to work for anyone other than one’s home country. Ejecting foreign diplomats is a serious but routine way for nations to express displeasure with other nations without committing an act of war or seriously endangering trade relations. So the fact that certain superheroes potentially have diplomatic status does not necessarily make things any easier for them. It is not entirely clear that someone eligible for diplomatic status would be eligible for the E1 visa that various characters without governmental ties would probably get. This is largely because in the real world, no one with diplomatic status seems to have tried do that, as having diplomatic status basically means one already has (or does not need) a job.

IV. Other Issues

But what about the really weird stuff? Like Thor, or the Shi’ar, or the New Gods?

Well Thor appears to have taken on the body of a citizen, which creates an interesting philosophical problem about the nature and identity of persons. This is exactly the kind of question a court is simply going to punt. It seems most likely that the court would simply grant Thor all of the legal statuses of Blake and have done with it.

Extraterrestrials are a different matter, but it would seem that there is a first-order question that needs to be asked. Actually, this question should probably be asked before any of them. Namely, “Is this character attempting to be part of the world or to blow it up?” If a character is attempting to exist in human society for one reason or another, they’ll need to deal with immigration law in some way. But if they’re, say, attempting to destroy all of reality, well, immigration status probably isn’t something they’re going to lose much sleep over. That’s obviously the extreme case, but someone intent on destroying a major city or taking over the world isn’t probably going to care much about immigration law either, nor will the legal system probably waste much time trying to nail them on something like that when there are available claims for things like attempted genocide.

It is unclear how the legal system would deal with the immigration status of extraterrestrials. Sure, the term “alien” could easily be read to include persons not from this planet in addition to persons not from this country, but practically speaking, no one is actually going to want to do that. Some other solution would almost certainly be implemented. They could simply be granted diplomatic status across the board.

V. Conclusion

Immigration creates a whole new set of problems for superhero characters, and a character that wants to stay on the right side of the law is going to need to figure out how to make this work. Fortunately, there appears to be an existing path to admittance and even citizenship for super powered characters in the form of the priority E1 visa. Other situations will probably require some degree of subterfuge if not outright forgery.

Commentary by James Daily:

An alternative approach to Superman’s status is the foundling statute, 8 USC 1401(f). “The following shall be nationals and citizens of the United States at birth…(f) a person of unknown parentage found in the United States while under the age of five years, until shown, prior to his attaining the age of twenty-one years, not to have been born in the United States.”  While rarely applied in the real world, a court could apply this to Superman.

Superman certainly had unknown parentage when he was found in the US under the age of five years.  The real crux is the meaning of ‘until shown…not to have been born in the United States.’  In most (if not all) continuities, Superman’s true origin was revealed to the Kent’s and to him before he turned 21, but a court could decide that ‘shown’ means ‘legally proven.’  So long as Superman’s immigration status were not an issue before he turned 21, which seems likely, he may indeed be considered a US citizen.

75 Responses to Superheroes and Immigration Status

  1. How about dealing with extraterrestrials by instituting per-planet immigration quotas? If you limit it to, say, 20 per planet per year you can allow as many extraterrestrials as you’re likely to get without worrying about people saying “how come they can get in while Mexicans can’t”.

  2. Is someone coming from a parrallel world US considered a citizen of the US?

    • Of that particular iteration of the United States. Interdimensional counterparts are not legally indistinguishable from one another, I’d think.

  3. I was puzzled by the first WILD CARDS book, where Dr. Tachyon, having fallen afoul of the Evial Redbaiters in Congress, was “deported” to England. There is no way Congress could force the UK to take him,any more than they could make foreign countries take Bebe Doc; and deporting him to his home planet was out of the question.

    • It’s true that the US can’t force a country to take someone, but there are treaties in place that cover deportation and extradition. Further, the US sometimes encourages other countries to take deportees that are not from the US or the receiving country. For example, the US has offered various things to other countries in order to get them to take released Guantanamo Bay detainees.

      • So on “Earth-WildCard”, Washington could have offered the UK incentives to take Tachyon in…or maybe the UK saw potential benefits…?

        Something to ask Melinda Snodgrass for a memory-refresher about at some point, that.

    • Post-WWII, one of the things that the United Nations tried hard to do was to end the problem of stateless persons — persons who could claim citizenship in no nation. Since Tachyon was stateless, his deportation might have been done under the auspices of various anti-statelessness agreements — Britain could simply have agreed to take him.

      We’ve done similar things with some of the Guantanamo detainees, IIRC.

  4. Wouldn’t the X-Men have originally been here using student rather than employment visas, considering their new domicile was Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters?

    Well, probably not Wolverine, but the rest of the international contingent.

    • True. But whereas a student visa can only lead a temporary status, a “person of extraordinary ability” process can lead to legal permanent residence (aka. a green card). So my guess is that, if given the option, they would proceed with the EB (employment based) process.

  5. Footnote about Superman: it’s generally assumed from the various retcons and retellings that the Kents, being isolated rural farmers in every version–they don’t just live in Smallville but way outside even the tiny town–was that they told everyone Martha had the child at home during the winter. Today it might be implausible, but even if use today’s timelines to say this was the early-mid 1970s, the idea of a rural farmer doing that and then bringing the child in for a birth certificate doesn’t sound insane, does it?

    • There was a post-Byrne story which revealed that the Manhunters created a winter storm to cover for their attempts to get the baby. The Kents got it anyway and ended up trapped for months. They claimed that Clark had been born to them during this time period. Since it’s an artificial alien-created storm, being trapped in it was plausible.

      If I recall correctly, most non-Byrne versions have them bringing Clark to the orphanage and adopting him from there.

    • Should the government move to deport him would it not have to have prove he is an alien from another planet instead of from Kansas? And if he came to court as Clark Kent and just sat there, what judge is going on record as finding that someone is a space alien? Just not very credible is it?

  6. Do these laws only concern persons? What constitutes a “person”, anyway? Does that even apply to an alien? What about “animals”, like Grod or the Ultra-Humanite, or machines like Brianiac?

    • The status of sapient non-humans is very interesting, and it’s definitely on our docket. As you suggest, there may be a tiered approach: humans, human-like aliens, non-human aliens, intelligent animals, and artificial constructs. These may or may not be treated differently under the law. We’ll find out!

      • Although note that the Ultra-Humanite, being a human brain in an ape body, is presumably a human being and a person in the context of the law, in the same way that somebody who receives a transplant of a heart valve from a pig doesn’t become less human or subject to law. He just happens to be a human who’s had everything but his brain transplanted from an ape, not an actual ape like Grodd.

      • TimothyAWiseman

        While not a comic book, this is the prime topic of Isaac Asimov’s “The Positronic Man” and the book has long discussions of both the legal and philosophical meaning of humanity and personhood.

    • Regarding non-human sapients, one possible out would involve the rules and procedures related to competence. If the non-human is able to satisfy the court as to its competence (usually involving proving awareness of the legal proceedings and their meanings, and showing an ability to assist in its own legal cause and pursue its self-interest) then the court may find that the non-human is a legal person

  7. Many of these analyses are predicated on an assumption that the subject is controlled by US immigration law at all. I haven’t researched it, but I think there is a strong argument that a subject must be determined to be human to be classified as a citizen, resident, alien, or any other legal status under the immigration statutes. 

    The example that springs to mind is extraterrestrials and mythical immortals. Can these even be counted in the human population? Are they counted in census? Do they vote? It gets even hairier for those beings who appear human and are even physiologically similar, but are in fact a wholly different species. If their presence in the US is not regulated by immigration law, under what set of laws, if any, would it be regulated? Customs regulations for importing animals? That would upset civil rights advocates, certainly. Is there a common law that might apply?

    A less controversial question is mutants. They are technically a subspecies of human (homo sapiens superior), which would presumably put them among the human population, at least under the law. Also, considering the volumes of federal regulation for controlling the risks mutants pose to the population at large, Congress has probably amended the immigration code to deal with some of these issues.

    • In truth I find it dubious that any English common law courts would characterise advanced technological aliens or even talking dogs as non-persons under the law or that if they did, that the ruling would survive under appeal. A creature that possessed humanlike conversational skills would normally get the nod. However artificial persons and the undead (including demons and even angels native to some kind of afterlife), creatures that can be characterized as not alive in the first place might have a tougher go of it. Bronze Age Superman once killed thousands of Solomon Grundys on just those grounds.

  8. How does this apply to very long lived beings who were resident in the United States at the time of its revolution? Presumably at that point one needed to merely be a resident in order to qualify for citizenship.

    In that vein, could heroes with time-travel capabilities then simply travel back to that point for long enough to ‘grandfather’ themselves in?

  9. Wolverine deciding to go to Alberta to discover his origins is all well and good, but he’s going to have to cross the border somewhere (probably North Dakota), and that means either showing a passport or jumping the border.

    Actually all he would have to do is show proof of citizenship, given that he’s Canadian.

    Now, going back into the US will involve more documentation, (such as a passport or enhanced driver’s license).

    • Presumably that proof of citizenship would most likely be a Canadian passport, since Wolverine would probably need one in the US anyway.

      • Keeping a viable passport doesn’t seem to have been much of a problem for Wolverine, given his military and intelligence connections on both sides of the US/Canada border. He’s made himself useful enough to both nations for that.

  10. Hi, first time poster, love the site.

    What penalties do the Kents face for harbouring an illegal alien for so long?

    And does it matter that people think Clark Kent is human, and associated with the Kents, and that Superman is the alien, who didn’t show up until he got to Metropolis? (Ignoring a lot of “young superman” continuity.) (Yes, the Kents and few others know the two are the same, so they could all be actioned against, but if that part of the crime isn’t found out…)

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  12. At least one variation on the Superman origin story (as seen in the Lois and Clark TV series) is complicated by the adult Clark visiting the past via time travel so that he is present (as an adult) on the day of his arrival on Earth, and helps to shape events so that he is adopted by the Kents. Presumably he could have at that point told them of his alien origin etc., which in the series they do not learn until he is at least 25-30 (although they suspect he is a foreign national); does his failure to clarify the situation complicate the status of the initial adoption?

  13. Superman is an Illegal Alien.
    The Martian Man-hunter is an Illegal Alien.
    Hawkwoman is an Illegal Alien.
    Wonder Woman is an Ambassador from a foreign country.
    Batman is a vigilante who continually breaks FAA, FCC, and State Department rules and laws traveling illegally around the world.
    The Green Lantern is in the employ of a foreign power and a foreign military and that borders on Treason.
    The Flash has raced around the world with no legal authorization to cross borders, and is just silly.

    And this is the Justice League of America?

    Pretty bad when you most upstanding member is The Flash.

    • Hal’s current immediate USAF superiors – if I recall correctly – are well aware of his role as a GLC member. Possibly, they’ve quietly obtained some kind of waiver…?
      The continuing surprise is that Hal’s ID should still be public knowledge after Tom Kalmaku’s biography got published. And it isn’t.

      Who administered the brainwashing to the planet for that retcon?

      • Hmm…does Hal know anyone with cosmic level powers? Maybe he’s affiliated with an organization that has hundreds of magic ring-bearers?

        (Or heck, maybe he just asked Zatanna, I don’t know…)

    • “The Flash has raced around the world with no legal authorization to cross borders, and is just silly.”

      That made me crack up. Thanks.

  14. Even without 8 U.S.C. § 1401(f) or Martha claiming to have been the mother, in a small, rural county, even today, if a couple went in to the county recorder’s office saying they found a kid on the side of the road, I’d bet many officials would probably make up a birth certificate for them.

  15. Now, what I want to know, is the issue of Doomsday, and situations in which heroes have to kill.

    Back when Supes killed Doomsday, would the United States(or the world, for that matter) consider Doomsday to be a living creature? Quite possibly not, but assuming they did, could they have been legally able to arrest Superman(if Superman hadn’t of died) for killing Doomsday? I mean, not that they would, but we’re just talking law here, right?

    I mean, superheroes already sort of bend the law in order to help people, and clearly in many cases, the law seems to be more than ok with that. But in that situation, would Superman have been “in the right”? I guess this also applied, to if a civilian managed to kill a terrorist, or even Bin Laden himself. Would he be in trouble with the law?

    also, big fan of your site, I’m showing it to as many comic enthusiasts as I can! Have a good night, man.

  16. Let me start by saying I love the blog. It is a fun and interesting spin on the law, and I’ll keep reading, unless of course I.C.E. catches up to me. Now, I must say that I am concerned about the “legal analysis” within this post. I just came across this blog, and while I understand that these hypotheticals are merely outlandish jurisprudential spins on the comic book world, I think a proper stating of the law is in order. While I am in no position to give a “proper” statement of the law, I’m going to make on anyway, so here goes.

    To start the post by saying, “Immigration law is a purely federal matter”…, while accurate to a degree, is a somewhat limited, unsophisticated view on the current state of immigration law. The reason for this is that our federal system is one of shared sovereignty between the various states. One need only look at the laws of the state and city of New York, (a.k.a. Gotham City, Metropolis, etc.), to see that the federal government is not the only bureaucratic entity which regulates immigration. Therefore, immigration law cannot be a purely federal matter.

    New York has laws on its books regulating businesses that hire aliens, as well as the status of aliens (presumably both earthly and those other than earthly), and has itself carried out various legal actions against businesses, etc. hiring “illegal aliens.” It makes no difference whether these state enforcement actions against businesses hiring illegal aliens came from the fact that the code of federal regulations restricts certain rights if citizenship, or if New York simply decided, sua sponte, that they would enforce such regulations to protect the legal (and we cannot forget unionized) workers within their state boundaries. In either scenario it is still the state and or city of New York that enforced the law and therefore illustrates the weakness of the first sentence of this post, which purports to be a valid statement of the law.

    Any first year law student knows that such bold, solidly stated, representations of “the law” are hardly ever true without exception. Exceptions abound within the law. To say that, “Immigration law is a purely federal matter,” is kind of like saying that Tony Stark is Ironman. The statement is correct to a point, but breaks down when one looks at the years Mr. Stark, while in the throes of alcoholic turmoil, ceded his Ironman suit to his good friend Jim Rhodes.

    A better way to say it is that the United State Congress, under the limitations and mandates of the United States Constitution, has the right to regulate immigration of aliens into this country, and their residency once within our borders. However, the beauty of the Constitution is that it limits the power of the federal government, and by dictate, its power over us (we) the people, and the many states in respect of a federal system of shared sovereignty. “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people,” (U.S. Const. amend. X).

    But wait! That’s it! The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution! The constitution delegates to the United States Congress the power of “immigration” right?! The answer as I see it is it depends. The constitution does not expressly state the word “immigration,” but it does address “naturalization.” Congress does have the mandate to “…establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization…”, (U.S. Const. art. I § 8), but to say that it does not necessarily follow that “immigration law is a purely federal matter.”

    Anyway, even the things I just wrote above are open to interpretation, because there are still arguments on many sides concerning the Supremacy of the federal laws and the United States Constitution; the possibility of pre-emption by the federal government over state laws in certain arenas; etc. Nevertheless, just look at the news today and you can miss current legal debate, cases, etc. going on which address the specific question of whom ultimately bears the burden of enforcing immigration laws.

    Therefore, in my humble and uneducated opinion, to say “immigration law is a purely federal matter”, is a misstatement of the current state of the law. Any complete analysis would need to incorporate both the states in which the super hero is located (which could be burdensome considering the speed at which some of these supers can move, the fact that most jump around the globe with abandon, and don’t even get me started on those galaxy hoppers and dimension trotters) and the federal regulations involved. If Superman came to me for advice, I’d tell him to go find a good immigration lawyer.

    So all I am saying is watch out for overly broad statements of the law, because the law is a nuanced miasma which people like me love to pontificate about, as you can clearly see if you read this whole comment. Now I am being way to technical about this, but the law is a very technical matter, and hey, if you’re going to argue over legal aspects, whether in this universe or the multiverse, you got to get it right if you want to be taken seriously. I mean, what the hell kind of comic book geek would I be if I didn’t pay attention to and argue over the details. I mean do Wolverine’s claws go SNIKT, SHNIKT, or SHNICT? Is JARVIS an acronym or just a name Mr. Stark gave his computer? How many Robins did Batman team up with and what were their names? Who were the original X-Men and when exactly did the they become UNCANNY?

    All the little details, whether about the multiverse, or the legal verse contained within your blog make the difference. Take care, and remember, with great blogging comes great responsibility, excelsior, and all that stuff. ‘Nuff said?

    • Within the context of the post, which is basically entirely about legal status, ‘immigration’ is essentially synonymous with naturalization, which as you point out is indeed purely a federal matter. And while one might argue that, for example, state laws regarding the hiring of undocumented workers fall under “immigration law,” one might just as easily argue that they fall under “labor law.” The statement “immigration is a purely federal matter” entirely depends on the meaning of the word “immigration” and is not really a statement of the law as such because it’s not precisely defined. I could go on splitting hairs about it, but that’s enough of that.

      Ultimately, while we strive to be educational as well as entertaining, we may occasionally gloss over details for the sake of brevity or wit. And while we also strive for accuracy, there may be unintentional errors or omissions. If we tried to do otherwise we’d be lucky to publish one post a week, and it would be 10 times as long and terminally boring. I don’t think anybody wants that.

  17. Wow that was a quick reply. You are absolutely correct. If there’s one thing comic book nerds like doing it’s over-thinking the smallest details. Love the site. Hope to see it around for a long time. I think you created a great bridging vehicle to introduce some to the law who might not normally get an introduction. Great work, please keep it up.

  18. Doubtless doesn’t apply any more, but in the early ’60s, before retroactive continuities, I remember that Superman®, at least, had been granted “honorary” citizenship by the United Nations, or by each of the member nations, acting through the UN, which allowed him to fly wherever he wanted w/o worrying about customs, border controls & the like.

    Probably as a result of some smarty-pants writing to DC, “Hey, Supes is violating laws left & right.”

    • Yeah, but this leads to the really, big question.

      Suppose Superman IS violating laws left and right. If he is, then…what the hell do you do about it? Nothing except pray to Odin that he’ll humor your technicalities. I think they’d make up some law to let him do whatever, because that really feels like their only option.

      In fact, in the ‘Batman state actor’ thing, I think James hit it on the head when he remarks how they’d just handwave Batman’s lawbreaking, as calling him out on it would likely lead to Gotham being ripped apart from the inside out.

      Anyway, rambling. Yeah, I’m hooked on this site, can ya tell?

  19. Maybe you all will cover this in a future post, but how do you think the immigration of multiples ( a la Jamie Madrox) would be treated? He often has his duplicates travel on his behalf, often to different countries. In fact, what would his duplicates be treated as legally (offspring)? Or would he just be convicted of fraud?

  20. Is there not some “distress” clause that applies to people getting shipwrecked, survivors of plane crashes etc? Otherwise they would seem to have entered the US illegaly. This would seem to apply to the young Kal-El.

  21. How would the government treat Cable or Bishop, people from the future? I know that this issue was brought up (rather superficially) by South Park, but it warrants examination here. Obviously under the law they would technically be citizens, as they were born in the United States, but there is still a major evidentiary hurdle. If Immigration caught Bishop and asked him for proof of his citizenship, what is he going to do? Tell them that his birth certificate will be available on record in thirty years?

    • One approach that may work for a time traveler who isn’t from too far in the future would be to undergo genetic tests that show that he or she is the child or perhaps grandchild of living American citizens. Barring something extremely unlikely like the time traveler’s parents renouncing their citizenship in the future (which is quite difficult to do), that would seem reasonable proof of citizenship.

      • Unfortunately that won’t work, because of the possibility of alternate timelines. In the real world, genetic testing can show parentage and except for identical twins, shows identity. However, in a comic book world, someone from an alternate timeline that diverged sometime in the past but after their parents were born would show up by genetic testing to be the child of their parents from this timeline, even though they’re not. Bishop is in fact such a case.

      • I think that would still work because it would show that the person was a US citizen in their native timeline, and presumably citizenship sticks with someone across timelines.

      • I suppose this depends–if someone’s a citizen of the US in another timeline, are they in this one? One commentor thinks they’re not, obviously you think they are. And if you say they are that raises the question of how different the timeline has to be for them to count–what if the timeline has Texas seceding 20 years ago and they’re a citizen of alt-Texas, then appear in the modern US? Do this dimension’s courts have to judge the legality of the other-timeline’s Texas secession to determine the answer?

  22. Can the US govt grant refugee status to superman? he has no other home to go to.

    furthermore, in some iterations of the comic, internal political machinations caused the planet to explode? [i.e. superman is basically escaping a dictator called braniac]

  23. I like this discussion. I thought a lot of this as I was reading comics (then grew up and started reading mangas).

    Here’s another issue, how about immigration issues for those of cosmic entitiy status like the New Gods, The Watchers, Galactus, Celestials, Darkseid, etc. What legal recourse does any person/nation have over someone who can literally wipe out a planet?

  24. How does this apply to very long lived beings who were resident in the United States at the time of its revolution? Presumably at that point one needed to merely be a resident in order to qualify for citizenship.

    Article Two of the Constitution covers this. All citizens of the United States (that is, citizens of the various states of the union) were grandfathered in as natural-born citizens of the United States when the Constitution was ratified. This would cover both Revolutionary War generals such as General “Mad” Anthony Wayne, direct ancestor of Bruce; comic-book heroes such as Tomahawk and Dan Hunter; and villains such as Vandal Savage were he (quite possibly) resident in the United States at the time.

    • Bruce is going to have difficulties being Anthony Wayne’s direct descendant, ’cause, ‘far as I recall, ol’ Mad Antoine … never married nor had progeny.

      • Actually, Mad Anthony had at least one son, named Isaac, and a daughter Margaretta. His wife’s name was Mary Penrose. They married in 1766, so before the war.

  25. I recently read a novel (The Android’s Dream by John Scalzi) in which a certain genetically modified human was legally defined as a new species under interstellar law, and it followed that as the only member of her species, she was its de facto head of state. Now, given that Kal-El is the sole survivor of Krypton (discounting continuities that include the Bottle City of Kandor, the Phantom Zone, etc.), would that make him the effective head of state for the Kryptonian nation by default? And would he therefore have diplomatic immunity?

  26. Ok. And what if an American super hero or villain commits a crime abroad? Can it be consider an international offense or even start the Third World War?

  27. Political asylum and/or the United Nations Convention Against Torture would be a viable option for many foreigners who seek protection in the US for fear of persecution / mistreatment in their homeland. Anyone seeking refuge here as a mutant would have a helluva case, notwithstanding the persecution that also exists in the US. Another form of relief for many heroes would be in the form of a private bill. Such bills are rarely used and would make perfect sense for noncitizens who need green cards in order to stay here legally, if they do not have a petition filed by an American relative or employer.

  28. Couldn’t Superman claim refugee status? His home planet (and by extension country) was destroyed through war/natural disaster. Seems like there is a pretty strong claim here.

  29. likely not a refugee , as the place blew up, but he certainly could get Temporary Protected Status

  30. Supes is better of moving to Canada and claiming refugee status as far as that goes.

    In all honesty what is the practical result of declaring Kal-El of Krypton an illegal immigrant? What would the INS do about him if they wanted to? I thought half the idea with illegal immigrants was that many of the ended up being deported back to their country of origin, a rather impossible task for Superman or even Martian Manhunter.

  31. What about asylum? A number of superheroes seem to be able to make a case, as well as supervillians, at least before they became supervillians (Magneto, perhaps?). Also would it be available to someone like Superman? If he were subject to otential deportation then surely he would be able to avail himself of any protections granted by immigration law.

  32. You mention the foundling statute has not been applied in very many cases, but what about babies left at doorsteps (or, in the current US, in hospitals designated as baby safe havens)? I was under the impression that the whole idea was that babies with no documentation of any kind and no known family members would be treated as US citizens, unless proven otherwise.

    • It occurs to me there may be confusion between different meanings of the word ‘case.’ I mean cases as in reported court cases, not ‘instances’ or ‘occurrences.’ So as far as I know you are correct about abandoned children, but there haven’t been many reported court cases involving the foundling statute. Probably because it’s usually obvious that it applies (e.g. an abandoned young child with no paperwork and whose parents are unknown and never found; there’s just not a lot to contest there and even the most heartless ICE agent wouldn’t want to try to deport an abandoned infant).

  33. Melanie Koleini

    I’ve noticed as Superman’s landing on Earth has moved forward in time, the Kents have gone from completely honest to actively concealing where he came from. I’m sure this is for practical reasons. What is believable in the 1930s is not believable in the 1970s.

    In the Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve, I think they claimed baby Clark was a recently orphaned relative. What proof would the Kents need to produce to adopt Clark? I assume forging a will naming them as the baby’s guardians and death certificates would be a good start. What would it take to forge a will anyway?

    If baby Kal-El crashed into the Kent farm today (2011), what laws would the Kents have to break to keep him? I’m assuming Martha couldn’t fake a pregnancy so they would need to explain where the baby came from.

    First off, they’d need to either have a doctor as a coconspirator or do a lot of forging. Otherwise the baby would be revealed as non-human pretty quickly (babies get a lot of shots).

    Super powers aside, adopting baby Superman looks a lot like a black market adoption or similar to when a couple kidnaps a newborn. What laws are actually broken in these cases (not counting kidnapping). What is the minim number of confederates needed to create at least the appearance of a legal adoption? Would they need a crooked lawyer or social worker?

    • These are great questions! We’ll revisit this topic soon. One question I wanted to address on a comic-book level: I don’t think the shots would be a problem. Superman derives his powers from the Earth’s yellow sun, and it took him a few years of exposure before he began to exhibit powers. Further, newborns are generally sheltered from the sun. I think the infant Superman could be given his immunization shots because he wouldn’t have become invulnerable yet.

    • The Smallville version of the story, which is as far as I can tell the most recent retelling of Superman’s origins, deals with this by having the Kents call in a favor with a local billionaire who owed them one. He sets up a sham adoption agency and has the paperwork railroaded through social services. It’s implied that the paperwork would survive most scrutiny unless said billionaire decided to blow the whistle.

      As far as immunization, injections aren’t the only way to do that anymore. These days in addition to injection we’ve got oral, transdermal, and intranasal (spray) vaccinations. It wouldn’t be that unusual for the Kents to request a delivery method other than injection, though they’d probably have needed to go to Metropolis to get it.

    • In the Byrne version (and this part of it is probably still valid today) the Manhunters wanted the baby and created a snowstorm. Jonathan and Martha got the baby anyway and ended up being artificially snowed in for so long that they could plausibly claim that Martha had given birth within that time period.

  34. Pingback: Superman to renounce US citizenship - Politics and Other Controversies -Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Conservatives, Liberals, Third Parties, Left-Wing, Right-Wing, Congress, President - Page 4 - City-Data Forum

  35. Pingback: The Great Divorce: Superman and American Foreign Policy | Cardus Blog

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  37. I know that, in at least one continuity, J’onn J’onzz was accidentally beamed to earth by some scientist’s attempt at communicating with Mars. Aside from the worst-scientist-ever issue, how would immigration law handle accidental abduction?

  38. One fundamental question… is it a violation of law to BE in the U.S. without proper documentation, or a violation to cross over the border into the U.S. without proper documentation? If it’s the latter, it’s possible that transdimensional beings and teleporters don’t actually violate the law, since they don’t actually cross the border.

    If you follow the traditional view of property rights as extending down to the center of the Earth and upwards to infinity, it’s possible (though of course AMAZINGLY unlikely) that Superman was, in fact, born in the U.S.A… just way, way, way above the ground.

    Concerning a couple of others: The Watcher’s immigration status is immaterial, because he does not come himself to Earth; he sends an image but stays himself on the moon. Galactus (and other celestial entities) do not recognize the authority of the courts and present a jurisdictional issue; I would think the safest way to deal with them is to find their cases nonjusticiable or dismiss the actions against them as forum non conveniens.

    • 1) It is a violation to be in the US without proper documentation.

      2) The “traditional” view has largely been abandoned with the invention of flight, lest homeowners assert trespass claims against airliners. Property rights now extend to the reasonably useful space above the ground, and sovereign rights end at the atmosphere.

  39. I’ll confess, I’d expect Superman’s immigration status to be resolved by a deus ex machina… if confronted by a bulletproof flying man who said he wanted to fight for truth, justice, and the American Way, I’m pretty sure Congress would amend the immigration statute to say that Superman can be a citizen just by asking (and also waive the entry procedure for him, as well). What we’ve really been debating is what is Clark Kent’s immigration status.

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  43. In the TV show “Lois and Clark”, Clark does not learn that he is an alien until he is 27. Although he learns this from breaking into a government lab of some type.

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