In case you missed it, in Action Comics #987, there were a few pages dedicated to Superman swooping in to save presumably undocumented workers from a gun-toting, American-flag-wearing disgruntled ex-employee, who apparently lost his job to those immigrants. The man fired upon them, only to have Superman block the bullets at the last second and essentially tell the shooter that he is a scumbag.
Believe it or not, these panels made a couple media outlets a little upset, raising questions yet again about #Superman as a political tool, with one particular idea being debated: of course Superman would save undocumented immigrants. He is a literal illegal alien! But how true is this? Would the Man of Steel actually be considered an undocumented illegal immigrant? Watch the video below or keep reading to find out!
Citizen Of The World
Many people will immediately bring up that Superman became a citizen of the world in Action Comics #900 after renouncing his US citizenship. That's all fine and good, but how did he even get his US citizenship? In most continuities, Superman is given honorary or special citizenship, like in New Adventures of Superboy #12.
As he told reporter Perry White about his Kryptonian roots, Perry remarks, "This may strike you as funny, but have you registered as a resident alien?" Supes responds, "President Eisenhower assured me I had nothing to worry about when I confided in him! After all, where could I be deported, since Krypton no longer exists?"
That already raises questions about terminology. Is Superman an immigrant, or is he more of a refugee? Superman didn't move to America by choice, but out of necessity, seeing as his own planet exploded. In fact, in some origins it might be more appropriate to label baby Kal-El as a Dreamer, a.k.a. a child who has been brought to the United States, has grown up in America and considers themselves to be American, but lacks the proper documentation.
Born In America (Technically)
I know I can't get too far without people screaming that I bring up one of the most comprehensive retellings of Superman's origin: the Man of Steel mini-series from 1986. This story made a small, but vital, change in the story of baby Kal-El. Instead of being an infant sent to Earth from Krypton in a small rocket ship, Superman's parents, Jor-El and Lara, sent their child to Earth before he's even born.
On Krypton, babies grow in gestation chambers. As the planet was tearing itself apart and doomed to explode, Jor-El modified the matrix orb housing the fetus that would grow up to be Superman into a spaceship. Just as Krypton detonated, Kal-El was sent soaring off to a distant planet called Earth, where he was discovered by kindly Kansas couple, the Kents. As Jonathan and Martha approached his pod, the gestation chamber opened up revealing the infant Kryptonian.
Superman was born technically in America. As he thinks to himself, "I may have been conceived out there in the endless depths of space, but I was born when the rocket opened on Earth, in America." But is he documented? How do you get the proper paperwork for an intergalactic alien?
In the story, the Kents lied and said Martha gave birth to Clark during a blizzard that was so hazardous that it kept them isolated from the rest of society for 5 months. The weird timeline and circumstances mixed with the fact that the Kents had two miscarriages and a stillbirth meant that their friends didn't ask too many questions. They were just happy Martha and Jonathan finally had the child they always wanted in their young Clark.
Disguising it as a home birth means the Kents could, and probably did, register a birth certificate and social security number for little Clark later. So in that version of his origin story, Superman isn't technically undocumented or an immigrant. This, of course, was published during an era when #DC Comics wanted to separate the Man of Steel's Kryptonian heritage and make him more American to fit with the cultural values of the time. "Krypton bred me, but it was Earth that gave me all that I am. All that matters."
In other words, Superman's an American and don't you dare say otherwise!
What is bothersome about this story, other than the obvious American propaganda, is the fact that the Kents lied about him being biologically theirs. That doesn't strike me 100% legal. Why not just come clean say that they found an abandoned infant and decided to take care of it? Would baby Superman have any legal protection in that circumstance?
Adoption By The Kents
Thankfully, at least one version of Martha Kent is with me on this one. All the way back in Superman #53, right after the Kents find baby Supes, she tells Jonathan, "We'll say we found an abandoned baby, which is true!" Over the next few pages, we get the explanation that the Kents brought the infant to a "home for foundlings" where they properly adopted him as Clark Kent.
Heck, there was even one version of the story where they simply left baby Kal-El on the doorstep to an orphanage and picked him up later as if "Oh no, we've definitely never seen this baby before."
But going back a bit, foundling is an important term here, as it invokes a tiny little statute found in the Nationality Act of 1940. This act revised a ton of laws regarding American citizenship, but all we care about is a small section of Chapter 2.
It stated that children are nationals and citizens of the United States at birth if they are "a child of unknown parentage found in the United States, until shown not to have been born in the United States." And boy, if that doesn't sound exactly like the circumstances surrounding Superman's landing on Earth!
However, you may have noticed that last bit of this so-called Foundling Statute. This part states how Superman would be considered an American national "until shown not to have been born in the United States," and that presents a bit of a problem. In every major continuity, Superman eventually learns he's not from America, but from a place a little bit further away.
The good news is that as the Nationality Act of 1940 was replaced and modified over many decades, the Foundling Statute was given two important age restrictions. Firstly, it only applies to children who have been found before the age of five, which is not a problem for the infant Superman. The second age tied into the statute means that Clark Kent might not be considered a US citizen if his true origin was revealed before he was 21.
And that certainly sounds like an issue in the case for Superman's citizenship. As we said, in most continuities, Clark learns of his Kryptonian heritage before he's 21. So does this mean that Superman would take his place as the ultimate immigrant once more? Probably not. As the fantastic blog Law and the Multiverse explains:
"...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."
Truth, Justice And...
With all that said, it looks like in most continuities, Superman would be considered a totally legal US citizen, and in some cases wouldn't even technically be immigrants. But I think it's important that we look at the original intent of Superman's creators.
When the Man of Steel premiered in Action Comics #1 from 1938, the Foundling Statute didn't exist from what I can tell. There was simply no way that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had this legal loophole in mind when they were creating Superman, and the two certainly didn't intend to have Superman born in America as his pod opened.
Siegel and Shuster were children of immigrants. They created Superman to be an intergalactic Moses. They instilled in the character a complex duality. I go back to the quote from author Rick Bowers who wrote about Superman:
"Coming from a distant planet, he was the ultimate foreigner. Raised in the midwestern heartland, he was the quintessential American."
This is a big reason why Action Comics #987 ruffled as many feathers as it did. The Man of Steel is caught between embodiments of his immigrant identity and his American identity, and he chose a side.
Where the 1980s version regarded his Kryptonian roots as nothing more than "curious mementos of a life that might have been," the modern Superman has been pulling away from the American way he's championed since the days of his radio show, returning further to how he was originally created.
Initially, the Man of Tomorrow fought only for truth and justice — that's it. And I, for one, think that's more than enough.
What do you think? Meet me in the comments to discuss!