Lately I’ve been working through our backlog of mailbag questions. Today’s post comes from this email from Jesse, who offers this background:
In issue six of [Ame-Comi Girls] after having saved the world from Brainiac, the heroes discuss their next move when Steve
RogersTrevor, representing the U.S government, informs them—with the exception of Wonder Woman (who possesses Themysciran citizenship)—that they are subject to US law as American citizens which does not allow for vigilantism. He goes on to say that they are warned not to commit any more acts of vigilantism until legislation can be set in motion which would recognize them as acting under the United Nations.
Power Girl (who is of Kryptonian origin and the analogue of superman in this universe) suggests that they could operate from the Fortress of Solitude (Which apparently serves as a Kryptonian embassy located in Metropolis). However Steve Trevor informs them that the United States could ask the embassy to leave and insist that the heroes answer to American authority. (Particularly over the matter of the Batgirl and Robin in this universe being in high school. Something that the government frowns upon as they are still recognized as minors.)
Wonder Woman asserts that she will simply grant them Themysciran citizenship which would make them all subject to Amazonian law which would allow them to continue their acts of vigilantism without answering to American law.
Steve Trevor asserts that this would apparently work for a time but that there would be a number of legal issues if one of them was killed in action.
To counter this, Power Girl asserts that she has the authority to grant them all Kryptonian Diplomatic status as well as the Themysciran citizenship, making them not subject to American authority. Steve Trevor protests this, particularly regarding the fact that half of the team is under 21 but apparently, these actions cannot be countered and he leaves.
This all led to the following questions:
*Could a legislation making allowances for superheroes actually be made? Specifically one that recognizes superheroes as serving under the United Nations.
*Can a nation ask an embassy to leave? I know that this can apply to an ambassador but….
*Could another nation simply grant an American citizen citizenship/diplomatic status? Would something like that even be recognized or is there a process for relinquishing one’s American status?
*Finally, would the whole process even work from a legal stand point as a means for the heroes to continue doing what they were doing?
I’m going to address each of these questions in turn.
I. UN Superheroes
This part seems fairly straightforward. The US could pass a law or resolution declaring that the US superheroes are acting as UN Peacekeepers, and the UN could pass an appropriate resolution accepting and deploying the superhero forces. This approach would limit the heroes’ actions to countries that accepted the presence of the Peacekeepers, though. It would probably also require Security Council approval, but we can ignore that political reality.
II. Kicking Out an Embassy
The short answer here is “yes.” Contrary to popular belief, embassies are not actually little pieces of the guest country’s sovereign territory. It would raise a tremendous diplomatic ruckus to do so, but a host country could evict an entire embassy. Apparently the UK considered doing so in order to get at Julian Assange, for example. But this is tantamount to completely cutting off diplomatic relations and would not be undertaken lightly.
III. Granting Foreign Citizenship
Sovereign countries can be as promiscuous with their citizenship as they like, and citizenship can be granted outside the normal naturalization process. The US does it from time to time via private acts of Congress, for example. The recipient of the foreign citizenship would not even necessarily have to relinquish their US citizenship first, nor would accepting the new citizenship necessarily result in loss of the US citizenship. 8 U.S.C. § 1481, the statute covering loss of citizenship, would not seem to apply if the foreign citizenship were voluntarily offered by the foreign government and did not require an oath of allegiance. Care would have to be taken that the superheroes were not considered officers in the foreign military, though.
IV. Would This Even Work?
And this is where it all comes crashing down. If the superheroes are operating in US territory, then the US has jurisdiction over them even if they aren’t US citizens. And if they try to become foreign diplomats (via Themyscira or Krypton, say), then the US can simply kick them out. If they refuse to leave then the US can exercise jurisdiction over them in the usual way.
If the superheroes decide to operate exclusively outside the US, then renouncing US citizenship would really get them very few benefits. Eventually (after the usual penalty period) they would get to stop paying US income tax on income earned in foreign countries, and a few laws affecting actions abroad by US citizens like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act wouldn’t apply. But that’s about it. Waiting for formal legal approval from the US (or whatever country they want to operate in) is probably the better approach.
As an aside: “vigilantism” isn’t a crime as such, at least not in any jurisdiction I’ve looked into. Vigilantes certainly often commit crimes, to be sure, but it’s possible for a superhero to stay on the right side of the law (e.g. proper use of self-defense, no trespassing to find evidence).