Superman and Supergirl: Environmental Refugees

(This guest post was written by Kean Zimmermana recent graduate from Michigan State University College of Law.  This post is an in-depth exploration of Superman and Supergirl’s environmental refugee status touched on in a previous article. The analysis in this article has changed to reflect the Supergirl in the TV series and recent New Zealand Court decisions. That article can be viewed online at L&F Magazine.)

Introduction

The writers and contributors who have posted on Law and the Multiverse, as well as other legal scholars, have taken the opportunity to note the various legal issues that superheroes and villains face when it comes to the intricate web that is immigration law.  Recent developments in the world have lead to an increase in refugees, especially refugees forced from their homes not just by people, but by the environment.  Kryptonians would likely be counted among the other environmental refugees.  Similarly the survivors of Krypton would also struggle with many of the same setbacks.

The United States has instituted laws addressing refugees since 1948.[1]  In 1948, the  United States government enacted the first law for admitting persons fleeing persecution.[2]  The law permitted 205,000 refugees to enter the United States over the course of two years.[3]  It was not until 1951 that the first steps were taken to recognize refugees on an international scale.[4]  In 1951, the United Nations put forth the 1951 Refugee Convention, which is the underpinning of most refugee law in the world.[5]  The Convention defines refugees, their rights, and what obligations states have to refugees across the globe.[6]  The same Convention states that individuals may seek asylum if they have a well founded fear of persecution on account of one of the five pre-approved grounds.[7]  Those are race, religion, ethnicity, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.[8]  While most countries that have adopted the convention’s regulations to govern refugee law, those same laws have not been updated to keep pace with current trends.  Currently, there is a gap between what the law provides and what is needed.[9]  The widening gap is most certainly the case of what is occurring with environmental refugees.

A. Environmental Refugees

Environmental refugees are growing in number across the globe, but both domestic and international laws have yet to grow along with the refugees.  According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, an environmental refugees is “a person displaced owing to environmental causes, notably land loss and degradation, and natural disaster.”[10]  These refugees are also known as “displaced people” or “climate refugees.”[11]  Environmental refugees are not a new phenomena, yet in recent years there has been an increase in attention to climate refugees.  This is correlative to the changes in climate that have occurred in recent years.[12]

I. Superman and Supergirl’s Not so Super Problem

A. Superman: A True Illegal Alien

There is no question that Superman, or rather Clark Kent, is not from this planet.  In fact he embodies the term “illegal alien” in that he never properly migrated to this country, or at least did not do so through official channels.  His provenance can be forgiven given the fact that he was sent by his parents from the planet Krypton.[13]  The reasons for the planet’s demise have varied over the years.  This post, however, adopts the theory from the Man of Steel movie.  In the Man of Steel, Krypton’s resources were over-consumed to the point that the planet imploded on itself.[14]   Environmental disaster on a planetary scale obliterated Krypton in its entirety.[15]

As a baby, young Clark could not be expected to file his asylum petition on his own.  The Kents adopted Clark after finding him in their field.[16]  The two possible ways this would occur today would be if Clark had been legally adopted as an abandoned child, or if the Kents had somehow managed to obtain forged documentation for Clark.  However, Clark would still have to file his claim for asylum the year after he turned 18.[17]  Clark would have clearly exceeded this statutory limitation as there is no evidence he has ever applied for asylum.[18]  Typically the law requires asylum seekers to affirmatively apply for asylum within one year after entering the United States.[19]  Recently, in a Board of Immigration Appeals decision, the court stated that an applicant’s age can be taken into consideration when determining if they can be exempted from the one year filing rule.[20]  Since there is no evidence that Clark ever attempted to apply for asylum this may have no bearing whatsoever.

Somehow Superman has the ability to renounce his United States citizenship in Action Comics 900.[21]  Renouncing American citizenship is governed under  section 349(a)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.[22]  The backlash after this comic book was released was so huge that publisher DC Comics backtracked a week later and announced the issue itself was standalone.[23]  Being a standalone issue meant no further issue would explore Superman’s discarding of his American citizenship.  At least in this respect, it can be assumed that he has United States citizenship.  There is a chance that Kent was granted citizenship under the foundling statute even though it is rarely used.[24]  Based on this law, because Kent’s parentage was unknown as he entered the United States under the age of five, and since he hid his secret well after the age of twenty-one, he could possibly have attained legitimate United States citizenship through the statute.[25]

There is little debate that Superman had to leave Krypton before its ultimate implosion.[26] While Superman has never formally been considered a refugee, he fits the basic understanding of an environmental refugee in that he literally has no planet to return to.  Since it is presumed from DC that he somehow has citizenship, he does not have to examine this question.[27]  The same cannot be said for his cousin Kara Zor-El, also known as Supergirl.

B. Supergirl’s Dilemma

While Superman might want to file for Supergirl’s entry into the country through legal channels, there is no “cousin” spot for admitting someone into the country as a family member (he could only seek to admit a parent, spouse, child, or sibling).[28]  The most logical option at that point would be Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).[29]  Supergirl’s biological age is only thirteen given that she was trapped in the Phantom Zone, a place where time moves slower than on Earth, after she left Krypton.[30]  However, her actual age is suggested to be much greater given that she was stuck in the Phantom Zone while Superman grew into a man (her age after arriving in the United States is an estimated thirty-seven years).[31]  The United States government might not consider her young enough to qualify for DACA based on the elevated age. Biologically she would have entered the country before turning sixteen, but she would have been alive for thirty-seven years.  As such, Superman would likely seek either asylum or withholding of removal for his cousin.

The problem then exists is that Supergirl cannot claim asylum based on the fact that her planet no longer exists.  Actual displacement based on loss of home due to an environmental disaster would seem to fall under the concept of an environmental refugee, but as of right now environmental refugees are not recognized under most international laws.  Environmental refugees do not appear to be eligible for asylum solely based on their status as an environmental refugee.  Most countries base their refugee law on the 1951 Refugee Convention.[32]  As previously mentioned, the Convention prescribes five grounds upon which an individual can receive asylum.  Those grounds are race, religion, nationality, political opinion, and a particular social group.[33]  Supergirl must also be suffering from some kind of “persecution” that is based on one of the five grounds.[34]

In this case Supergirl’s persecution is simply that she is unable to return to her home planet of Krypton.  She lacks the opportunity to avail herself of the Kryptonian government since it is non-existent.  She would seek admittance to the United States, but she does not fall into a persecutorial nexus based on any of the five grounds.  At this point, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would contemplate whether or not it could forcibly eject Supergirl from the United States.  To do so would mean extreme costs on the United States government as simply containing her would likely cost upwards of $20 million.[35]  Even if Supergirl were to be ejected from the country, she would have nowhere else to go.

C. Super and Stateless

In effect Supergirl is actually a stateless person.  As of now the United States has not signed on to any of the major international conventions which attempt to reduce the number of stateless persons.[36]  Currently, the United States is lacking a basic framework to deal with stateless people, so most of its efforts are merely stopgap measures.[37]  The absence of a framework often leaves stateless persons in a position of limbo for excessive periods of time, especially if they no longer have a country to return to or no country which will accept them.[38]  Supergirl would likely be in a similar position as Krypton no longer exists.  After a determination is made that she either cannot return, or that it is too expensive to deport her, the government would probably require Supergirl to make routine reports to the Department of Homeland Security.[39]  Although she might be able to receive a work permit, if she were to ever leave the borders of the United States, border patrol could then deny her readmission.[40]

As a last ditch effort, Supergirl might try to claim asylum on the basis of her membership in a particular social group.[41]  She could argue that her particular social group is that of a Kryptonian who survived the destruction of the planet of Krypton.  However, such a group has yet to be acknowledged by the United States government.  Even then the persecution would have to be a form of past persecution.  Different circuits within the United States recognize different grounds or acceptable forms of past persecution.  Thus far, none have accepted the idea of “loss of a home” as a viable form of past persecution.  In fact, there is no law stating that the loss of a country, let alone a planet, amounts to persecution.  One of the only individuals in the world to make such an argument thus far has had little success.

II. Tuvalu: An Island and its Implications for Immigrants

Ioane Teitiota is the first man in New Zealand to seek asylum under the label of environmental refugee.[42]  Teitiota has been living in New Zealand since 2007 after leaving his Tuvaluan home; he believes his home will become uninhabitable before too long.[43]  Tuvalu is a Polynesian island nation located in the Pacific Ocean.[44]  The island is located halfway between Australia and Hawaii.[45]  Although very unassuming, the island is predicted to be the first island to succumb to rising sea levels.[46]  In 2009, there were many trees swallowed by the rising salt water, but as of 2012 whole parts of the island were consumed.[47] The highest point of the country above sea level is only a few meters high.[48]  Before the island is swallowed by the sea there are many Tuvaluans who are concerned that encroaching salt water will prevent any type of agriculture from persisting on the island.[49]  To that end, many Tuvaluans have fled their country, but not all have succeeded in trying to relocate.

The Court of Appeals in New Zealand denied Mr. Teitiota’s  application for Asylum in 2014 stating that his case was “fundamentally misconceived” and that it would “stand the [UN refugee] convention on its head.”[50]  While Teitiota argued that he would be facing “passive persecution” as a result of his government being unable to “protect him from climate change’s effects,” the court remained unpersuaded.[51]  Ultimately, the court felt that Teitiota’s arguments were “novel,” but “unconvincing” as granting him asylum would simply open up opportunities for millions of people living in low-lying countries to seek the same kind of asylum.[52]  To avoid a flood gates situation the Court affirmed the lower court’s decision to deny Teitiota’s claim for asylum.  The Court’s decision meant that Mr. Teitiota, his wife, and his three children born in New Zealand would have to return to their native home of Tuvalu.[53]

It seemed strange then that a different family from Tuvalu was granted New Zealand residency only months later after making similar claims.[54]  The family’s petition was the first “successful application for residency on humanitarian grounds in which climate change had featured.”[55]  The Court claimed the second case was different since the family had strong ties to New Zealand.  Like Mr. Teitiota’s claim, the second family was denied initially for not meeting the standards of the refugee convention.[56]  However, the second family successfully won their subsequent appeal by basing their argument on humanitarian grounds.[57]  In the July 2014 decision, the Court found that returning the family back to Tuvalu would be “unjust and unduly harsh.”[58]  The largest difference between the two applicants is the second Tuvaluan family has three generations of relatives living in New Zealand, increasing their ties to the community.[59]  Supergirl may be able to raise a similar argument since she herself has ties to the United States in the form of her cousin Superman.  This would likely fail though since Superman himself is only one man, not three generations of familial ties.  Furthermore, the United States has done very little within its own borders to make immigration exceptions for environmental refugees from abroad.

III. What the United States is doing for Environmental Refugees

There is no official legal framework to address the problems environmental refugees face when they try to enter the United States.  The United States has taken some steps to acknowledge this unique group of refugees immigrating into the United States.  The Immigration Act of 1990 does address granting temporary protection status to such refugees.[60]  Temporary protection status is granted when:

There has been an earthquake, flood, drought, epidemic, or other environmental disaster in the state resulting in a substantial, but temporary, disruption of living conditions in the area affected’ and when ‘the foreign state is unable, temporarily, to handle adequately the return to the state of aliens who are nationals of the state.[61]
Temporary status only applies to individuals who are already inside the United States at the time of the disaster.[62]  The temporary status includes six months of protection and the ability to work, but it does not allow for the admission of the claimant’s spouse or family.[63]  Temporary protection status was granted to victims of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and victims displaced by the Montserrat volcano explosion in 1997.[64]  However, the granting of temporary protection status is discretionary.[65]  In addition to only protecting those who were environmentally displaced while they were present in the United States, as of 2014 only citizens of Haiti (earthquake), Honduras (hurricane Mitch), Nicaragua (hurricane Mitch), and El Salvador (earthquakes) were able to get temporary protected status for environmental events. [66]  There is no legal protection in the United States that creates a path to permanent status for environmental refugees.  As a country, the United States’ ability to protect those persons displaced by climate change is limited since its laws do not offer any substantive relief to those fleeing environmental disasters or rising sea levels outside of the United States.  In this lack of framework, the United States is consistent with many other international states who do not have legal frameworks to address the problems faced by environmental refugees.

Conclusion

In the end Supergirl will face the same fate as millions across the globe.  Without an adequate legal framework to deal with the surge in environmental refugees that is predicted to come in the next few decades, stopgap measures will be used to treat the environmental refugee crisis on too small a scale.  Excessive stopgap measures will lead to a bottleneck in the immigration system.  Supergirl will likely not be deported because of the sheer cost that would entail, and the fact that there is likely no Kryptonian agreement with any other country that would allow her to reside there.  In all likelihood, she will stay in the United States, but will not be able to ever qualify for United States citizenship since she falls within a grey area of the law.  This might not be as much of a problem, but if she were to ever save anyone outside of the United State’s borders then the United States could deny her readmission to the country. This would drastically limit the range of her allowable Superhero activities.

 

[1] History of U.S. Immigration Laws, Federation for American Immigration Reform, http://www.fairus.org/facts/us_laws

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 189 U.N.T.S. 137 (done at Geneva, 28 July 1951), as amended by the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, 606 U.N.T.S. 267, T.I.A.S. No. 6577, 19 U.S.T. 6223, done at New York, 31 Jan. 1967.

[5] The 1951 Refugee Convention, http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49da0e466.html

[6] 1951 Refugee Convention, supra note 5.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Climate Refugees, Michael P. Nash, LA Think Tank, http://www.snagfilms.com/films/title/climate_refugees

[10] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, https://stats.oecd.org/glossary/detail.asp?ID=839

[11] National geographic, Climate Refugee, available at http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/encyclopedia/climate-refugee/?ar_a=1 , last visited Apr. 20, 2015.

[12] Climate Refugees, supra note 9.

[13] Man of Steel, Zack Snyder, Warner Bros., 2014.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.  (Adopt is likely a tentative term,  seeing as the Kents probably did not file the appropriate adoption paperwork as they did not want to risk the safety of their young child).

[17] INA §208(a)(2)(B).

[18] Id.

[19] INA §208(a)(2)(B).

[20] BIA Decision, Mar. 29, 2013, http://www.refugees.org/resources/for-lawyers/asylum-research/youth-and-1-year-bar-bia.pdf,

[21] Paul Cornell, Action Comics 900, (DC Comics, 2011).

[22] INA §349(a)(5).

[23] DC Backtracks Superman Renouncing His Citizenship, May 5, 2011, available at http://www.comicbookmovie.com/fansites/luffycapri/news/?a=36606, last visited Apr. 18, 2015.

[24] Ryan Davidson, Superheroes and Immigration Status, Law and the Multiverse, Dec. 22, 2010, available at http://lawandthemultiverse.com/2010/12/22/superheros-and-immigration-status/, last visited Apr. 20, 2015.  (James Daily Commentary).

[25] Id.

[26] Man of Steel, supra note 13.

[27] Paul Cornell, supra note 21.

[28] Bobbie Masters, Frequently Asked Questions About Immigration, Masters Law Firm, P.C., available at  http://www.coimmigrationlawyer.com/faqs.html

[29] USCIS, Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals http://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/consideration-deferred-action-childhood-arrivals-daca

[30] Supergirl, Warner Bros. Television (2015)

[31] Id.

[32] 1951 Refugee Convention, supra note 5.

[33] Id.

[34] Id.

[35] Matt Hershberger, Is Superman Undocumented?, http://themigrationist.net/2013/08/21/is-superman-undocumented/

[36] See Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, opened for signature Sept. 28, 1954, 360 U.N.T.S. 117 (entered into force June 6, 1960 ) ; see also Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, opened for signature Aug. 30, 1961, 989 U.N.T.S. 175 (entered into force Dec. 13, 1975)

[37] Mikhail Sebastien, Stateless in the United States, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/stateless-in-the-united-states/2013/07/04/ae4c7a72-debe-11e2-b2d4-ea6d8f477a01_story.html

[38] Id.

[39] Id.

[40] Id.

[41] 1951 Refugee Convention, supra note 5.

[42] Kathy Marks, World’s first ‘climate change refugee’ has appeal rejected as New Zealand rules Ioane Teitiota must return to South Pacific island nation of Kiribati, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/worlds-first-climate-change-refugee-has-appeal-rejected-as-new-zealand-rules-ioane-teitiota-must-return-to-south-pacific-island-nation-of-kiribati-9358547.html

[43] Id.

[44] Climate Refugees, supra note 9.

[45] Id.

[46] Id.

[47] Id.

[48] Id.

[49] Id.

[50] Marks, supra note 42.

[51] Id.

[52] Id.

[53] Id.

[54] Amy Maas, Tuvalu Climate Change Family Win NZ Residency Appeal, The New Zealand Herald, http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11303331

[55] Id.

[56] Id.

[57] Id.

[58] Id.

[59] Maas, supra note 54.

[60] An EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change, Commission Staff Working Document, European Union (2013), 17 (internal quotation marks omitted).

[61] Id.

[62] Id.

[63] Id.

[64] Strategy on Adaptation, supra note 60.

[65] Id.

[66] Madeline Messic & Claire Nergeron, Temporary Protected Status in the United States: A Grant of Humanitarian Relief that is Less Than Permanent, http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/temporary-protected-status-united-states-grant-humanitarian-relief-less-permanent

47 responses to “Superman and Supergirl: Environmental Refugees

  1. Does it make a difference that Clark’s been adopted by a US couple?

    As for Supergirl (or Superman for that matter) I suspect we’d be more likely to see the feds hand-wave any difficulties away to keep them as “ours.”

    • Arguments can be made that both could be declared Strategic National Assets.

    • Why hand-wave? Why not just give her an O-1 Visa?

      Because “alien of extraordinary ability” appears to be tailored to fit them.

      • An O-1 visa could probably work, but the hang up might be the fact that it has a time limit. Even if it can be renewed each year, Superman and Supergirl might seek a more permanent solution.

  2. If Clark had been formally adopted by the Kent family then it would make a difference. I tried doing research on his adoptive status, but nothing I uncovered suggested that the Kent family had ever officially adopted him. Most unaccompanied minors are placed in shelters operated by the US Department of Health and Human Services. Although families can register with foster care providers like the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services or the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I could not find anything to suggest that the Kents did this. The United Nations has adopted a policy against adopting refugee children in emergency contexts, with only a few exceptions. Clark would likely meet these exceptions since, at the time of his alleged adoption, he had no living relatives he was aware of that he could be returned to. His adoptive family would still have to register with a formal agency if they wanted to adopt him as an unaccompanied refugee child though.

    • “If Clark had been formally adopted by the Kent family then it would make a difference.”
      But even a formal adoption, if made fraudulently, is void. The Kents concealed Clark’s origin.

      And all of this assumes that Kal-El is legally recognized as a person. This is not a certainty. Go back and read Scot v. Sanderson. It was once possible to exclude even beings with 100% human DNA from this classification. Given the overall total of hostile Kryptonians to benevolent Kryptonians, a designation of Kryptonians as “invasive species” isn’t out of the question…

      • You are correct that a fraudulent adoption would be considered void. This is why I hesitate to say that there is an adoption in the post-Byrne Superman origin canon. In the pre-Byrne era though there is discussion of Kal-El coming from a foundling orphanage. If that is the case then the foundling statute, which builds on the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment overruling Scott v. Sandford, says that as long as foreign birth is not established by the time he reaches the age of 21 then citizenship is presumed. The fact that he can leap over tall buildings in a single bound might be a tip off to the foreign parentage though.

        I had not thought of the possibility of Kal-El not being considered a person, but unfortunately I think that could be the viewpoint of some.

      • The origin story I recall has the Kents discovering Clark still in his Kryptonian vessel, and and accident that required baby Clark to lift the car off of Mr. Kent. So the Kents knew all along that Clark was an illegal alien, and their adoption was fraudulent (can it be PROVEN fraudulent? Different question).

  3. Man of Steel maybe not. He’s definitely adopted in the comics, as was Supergirl after a few years.

    • Right, in the early comics he was taken to a “foundling” orphanage and adopted via the orphanage. This was possible because he was considered to be a “foundling.” After the John Byrne mini-series in 1986 most of the other origin stories seem to exclude anything about formal adoption. I believe the John Byrne influence has affected many of the recent retellings of Superman’s origin story.

  4. “if she were to ever save anyone outside of the United State’s borders then the United States could deny her readmission to the country”

    COULD they? From a practical rather than legal standpoint, this seems to have even worse enforcement problems than trying to kick her out. She can fly, and does not need to land at an airport. Who’s even going to be able to catch her, let alone turn her back? Short of some sort of kryptonite-powered laser dome over the entire country (Lex Luthor’s counterproposal to one-up Trump’s wall, perhaps), I’m thinking this would be another ‘discretionary non-enforcement’ thing.

    (And that’s without even taking into account the fact that both Superman and Supergirl are generally publicly beloved)

    • From a practical standpoint it would be nigh impossible to keep either of them out. What I meant to focus on would be the legal ramifications of leaving U.S. borders and then returning. Even if one of them had some type of deferred action status with regards to staying in the U.S. this could be compromised by leaving country.

      Speaking to the fact that they are both generally publicly beloved, this may encourage the executive branch to act in their favor (i.e. an executive order expanding DACA to include them).

      • it’d be more likely to seek a private act of congress granting them citizenship. That would permanently sort out the issue of their status.

  5. The footnotes on this are atrocious. For instance, one footnote reads “Davidson, supra note 95 (James Daily commentary).” That is the only occurance of the name Davidson on this entire page.

    • That was a result of adapting this post from the L&F Magazine article. The footnote has been replaced with a full citation. Law and the Multiverse regrets the error.

      I did not find any other erroneous footnotes. I think ‘atrocious’ is a bit of an overstatement.

  6. How is Superman’s (and any other Kryptonians’) coming to America any different from the arrival of the white man? None of the European powers consulted with the local legal posture before landing, claiming ownership, and planting colonies. Why should Kal-El or Kara be any different? They came, they said “we live here now”, and there wasn’t much that the indigenous people could do about it.

    • I guess the only difference then would be that Europeans weren’t necessarily attempting to immigrate as much as they were trying to colonize. While Kal-El and Kara seem to want to become a part of the U.S. (i.e. via their alter egos), European colonists were not really attempting to integrate with tribal governments. Instead the colonies were arguably an expansion of their own government, but I do not have enough knowledge on this specific area to substantiate this argument.

      • ” While Kal-El and Kara seem to want to become a part of the U.S. (i.e. via their alter egos)”

        I’m not familiar enough with Kara’s history to comment on it, but it isn’t at all clear that Superman wants to become part of the U.S. (Despite the propadanda claiming he fights for truth, justice, and the American Way, he often picks and chooses which laws and regulations he’d like to follow. For example, he often leaves the United States and returns without inspection. He emits x-ray radiation without a license to do so. He is frequently seen flying without any FAA registration marks displayed. He’s been seen doing construction, without obtaining permits or being inspected.
        Of course, many native-born Americans do not adhere strictly to American laws and regulations… but we expect and demand that immigrants do.

  7. I rather liked this look into immigration law viewed through superheroes.

    I’ve always assumed that the Kents obtained forged documents for Clark. His lack of a birth certificate would hardly be the only issue. Schools I have dealt with ask for things like shot records, which he would have difficulty with if the needles to give him shots would not pierce his skin. (Of course, some versions such as Man of Steel deal with this somewhat with the assumption that his powers grew with time spent on earth…)

    • Pre-crisis (which is not the version the article is referencing) they dropped him off at an orphanage as a foundling, so no need to obtain forged documents.

  8. The US government might not be crazy about supper powered aliens living and working in the US but they’d probably do anything possible to keep them from from allying with another county. I’m sure Russia or China would be happy to grant them permanent residency

  9. I’m curious about the implication in this post that the Kents may have had difficulty adopting Clark because he is an illegal immigrant. Also this is true, it’s not like they ever actually told anyone this; all they had to say was they found this white kid in Kansas, so how likely is it that anybody raised the question of immigration over this? Or is it that every single unidentified child found on the side of the road (as far as everyone else knows) is falls under the jurisdiction of immigration laws?

    • It probably varies state to state, but in general a baby found by the side of the road is considered a foundling (and eligible to be adopted). The problem with the Kents is that (in the more resent versions) they lied/forged paper work to adopt baby superman.

    • The real problem is if you find a baby you can’t just keep it.

      If the Kents had reported finding a baby by the side of the road. The baby would have been put in foster care. Even if the Kents were licensed foster parents, they probably wouldn’t have gotten the baby. (Though it could happen.)

      Assuming the baby was believed to be human, he likely would have become eligible for adoption sooner or latter.

      • You’re correct in that the child would be considered a foundling under Federal law. Ultimately United States citizenship is presumed for a foundling unless it can be proven prior to the child becoming twenty-one that the child was born outside of the United States. The origin stories for Superman vary, but if the Man of Steel origin story controls then his display of super powers might suggest that he was born outside of the United States and then disqualify him from foundling status.

      • “Ultimately United States citizenship is presumed for a foundling unless it can be proven prior to the child becoming twenty-one that the child was born outside of the United States.”

        In Man of Steel Clark we don’t know the exact age Clark becomes Superman and is revealed to the world as such, but the actor was in his 30’s at the time and the character was most likely in his mid to late 20’s.

  10. Right, but Clark in the movie started developing his Superhuman hearing when he was 9, and then saved the children on the bus when he was 13. Assuming that these could be documented somehow and then attributed to him these might seem like a “foreign parentage” tipoff.

    • They may be documented, but it shouldn’t matter if the cut off point is 21. It would basically be if instead of having myserteous superhuman abilities at school, he was Asian and spoke only Chinese…but nobody brought it to the attention of the courts until after he was over 21, so even if he was indeed found to have been illegally adopted and actually hailing from China, what of it? If he is over 21- the time to declare this has come and gone.

  11. Couldn’t Supergirl get citizenship by being adopted by US citizens? Googling seems to show that she could be adopted under the orphan process, which is for countries that are not party to the Hague convention (I don’t believe Krypton has signed it). It requires that her parents are dead or abandoned her, which is true, and must be done before the child’s 16th birthday (which would probably require a ruling on how old she is legally considered to be, because of the Phantom Zone–this wouldn’t have been a problem pre-Crisis).

    • Also Krypton isn’t on the Gregorian calendar, so her Kryptonian birthday isn’t going to help figure out how old she is.

      • Well, since Khryptonians appear to age at roughly the same rate as a human being (since Clark obviously aged at roughly the same rate as everyone he went to school with, so far as all the evidence suggests)…yes, it kind of would.

        Honestly you’d just need to work out what a year is on Krypton vs what is a year on Earth, which shouldn’t be that hard since Jor-El gave Superman a record of Krypton and all sorts of information about it when he sent him away, not to mention Klara herself was sent as a teenager and might be old enough to know some of this stuff already (esp. since she is the daughter of scientists). It’s not really that difficult.

  12. “It’s not really that difficult.”

    It sure is. How long is an Earth day, as measured in Kryptonian Nougats? You can answer that easily, if you know the ratio of Nougats to seconds. But you don’t. If the records say that there are 36 Nougats in a Caramel, and 36 Caramel in a Chocolate, and 36 Chocolates in a (Kryptonian) day… you still don’t know the answer.
    If Kara says her birthday is the 47th of Tinvil, what day is that on the human calendar?

    • I don’t, but the A.I. of Jor-El that hangs around Clarks’ space age Fortress of Solitude just might, and that is my point.

      • James Pollock

        You’d need one of two things: Either a the length of a Kryptonian day (or other unit of time measurement) measured in human time units, or the length of the Earth day in Kryptonian time units. I’m not so sure either is readily available. There’s no Rosetta Stone, with the same information encoded in both languages.

        (There’s an old H. Beam Piper story that tackles this problem, “Omnilingual”. I think it’s available as part of the Gutenberg project).

      • Since no depiction of the Fortress of Solitude (which is effectively a giant supercomputer) has ever been shown having trouble understanding English, and since Superman himself understood all the information it gave him even after he first found it and knew no word of Kryptonian (if he ever did), I doubt this is a problem.

        Basically it’s just easier and more logical to assume that Kryptonians have invented universal translators- that, or all Kryptonians speak English. The information you speak of might not be readily available to the general public, but it is available to Kara and Superman, and that’s all that matters. You seem to be seriously underestimating the technology and information Clark and Kara have at their disposal here, not to mention that they do indeed know where Krypton is in relation to Earth as Jor-El in many depictions was kind enough to also give him an interstellar map that included both planets (which of course he himself definitely had since he knew where to send Clark in the first place).

        While it’s not 100% confirmed, it is highly to extremely probable that Superman is either in possession of exactly that information, or has enough to piece it together easily enough. Translation does not appear to be an issue and even if it was, it can be easily overcome, if it is even needed.

    • Ignoring the probability that they would have a definition of the Nougat based on some measurable phenomenon, as we have for the second with the caesium-133 atom… And also ignoring the near-certainty that both Clark’s and Kara’s ships’ computers run on Kryptonian time… Presumably Kara knows about how long a Nougat is, just as I can tell you that a second is about the time it takes me to think the phrase “one one thousand” at a particular pace. Have her start a stopwatch, count off an approximate Nougat to herself, stop the stopwatch, and use that as the multiple. It won’t be precise, but it’s good enough for a fermi estimate.

    • Melanie Koleini

      The problems with all the talk of comparing the Kryptonian and Earth calendar is that it ignores the Law of Relativity.

      We know Superman goes into the spaceship as a baby and gets to Earth as a baby but we have no idea how long the trip took from Earth’s perspective. Krypton is likely many lightyears from our solar system. His and Super Girl’s ships likely traveled close to the speed of light. This would cause time dilation. This means Krypton my have been destroyed hundreds or thousands of years before they get to Earth.

      • I can’t speak for the movies, but the comics since the Silver Age have credited the rocket with a space warp drive so it didn’t have to cross all the intervening distance between Earth and Krypton (in the Silver Age the warp also pulled in the kryptonite meteors and artifacts that were forever showing up). So not very long, actually.

      • James Pollock

        A spacewarp drive doesn’t solve the problem, it makes it worse.
        If the Kryptonian ships have a spacewarp drive, then it works by either altering the fundamental laws of time and space, or it works by transitioning the spacecraft and its contents to another universe with different rules (AKA “hyperspace”) and again we have the clocks all exposed to different time physics.

      • Pretty much everything in the DCU violates the fundamental laws of time and space, so that’s not saying much.

  13. As Jonathan says, the information undoubtedly exists and Superman and Supergirl can probably figure it out.
    As far as Clark’s age, there’s some related discussion (applying to Silver Age stories) here: http://captaincomics.ning.com/forum/topics/deck-log-entry-175-superman-and-the-younger-woman

    • “As Jonathan says, the information undoubtedly exists and Superman and Supergirl can probably figure it out”

      “undoubtably”? Apparently, this word means different things to you and me.

  14. Is Superman actually an illegal alien?

    He didn’t deliberately or consciously enter the country in violation of the laws – he was a passenger in a space-craft that crashed.

    In real life, is someone who was shipwrecked or deposited by a plane crash in the US considered an illegal immigrant?

    • While I don’t know if this affects the answer, it wasn’t a wreck–Jor-El made a conscious choice to send Kal-El to Earth.

      • But Jor-El’s immigration status is not in question. His son was the innocent victim of his father’s decision.

  15. Couldn’t Superman claim political persecution on the basis that the senior surviving official of the Kryptonian government, General Zod, keeps trying to kill him? Since Zod is seeking revenge for his imprisonment by Superman’s father Kal-El, that would seem to make both him and Supergirl members of a targeted social group (the El family).

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