Legal Fictions: Documenting Your Vampire

legal padThose commenting on my initial post in this series brought up another fascinating topic: How do people who don’t legally exist in our world get the documents they need to pass as human?

John C. Bunnell wrote:

An issue that crops up for me both as a reader and a writer: when someone of non-mortal origin is living incognito in our everyday world — be they faerie or vampire or werewolf — they’re often portrayed as maintaining a normal human identity. But now that so much identity information is computerized, and so much else depends on having one or two key pieces of original documentation, I’m interested in how they might navigate the legal logistics.

That’s a fascinating subject – and another one that doesn’t have any easy answers. Getting those folks documents legally means creating a world in which governments both recognize their existence and their legitimacy, which might make for an interesting story now and again, but would not work for a lot of fiction about such people.

The core issue here is how to deal with situations in which your characters must break the law to survive. One way to look at this question is to study the travails of real life undocumented immigrants.

In the U.S., we currently have about 12 million people who are undocumented or insufficiently documented and trying to stay here. They often get paid “under the table” or use someone else’s social security card to get a job.

Most undocumented people don’t have the money to spend on high tech fake papers. But while some get arrested and deported, most do not. And – judging by our history – most of them eventually find a way to legalize their status.

They’re always at risk, but it is possible to work around the rules despite all the high tech verifications. Sometimes the people who hire them know they don’t have documents and ignore that. Sometimes they can get lost in the crowd. None of the verification systems we have in place work all that well. It’s stressful, but doable, and I bet it will continue to be that way.

For your paranormal or time-traveler with money, it will be possible to pay someone to hack the records and build you into them. Near as I can tell, every time someone comes up with a verification system that’s supposed to be foolproof, someone else shows them up. That’s more of a tech issue, though the fact that we pass laws relying on hackable systems of identification should give us all pause.

And there are still small countries in the world where someone with money can buy citizenship and respectability with few questions asked. A lot of rich crooks have taken advantage of that – they’ve bought themselves a passport in a country that will refuse to extradite them to the United States or other countries that are seeking to throw them in jail.

Enough money will continue to be a viable solution.

Phyllis Irene Radford raised another intriguing possibility: working with law enforcement. She wrote:

Part of my Urban Fantasy is that the Wer community has formed an alliance with the FBI. The Feds don’t reveal their existence and launch witch hunts, and in return the Wer perform specialized missions–who do you really think found Hussein and Bin Lauden? The Wer also register within their community, black light tattoo morphing to computer chip, and behave themselves. They police and judge within their own community.

Getting your fake documents from the law is a safer method than getting them on the black market, but I admit to qualms. As I heard a judge once say in a bail hearing to a defendant who was protesting that the cops arrested him after he’d acted as an informant for them, “If you lie down with the dogs, you’re going to get fleas.”

The FBI could decide that the deal is no longer in their best interest, and the Wer community would be out of luck.

However, the other point Phyllis makes – about the Wer setting up their own registration and policing system – is another way of addressing this. This shows the paranormals as good citizens – perhaps even better citizens than the rest of us. If push comes to shove and they are exposed, they would be in a good position to press for actual civil rights.

You could call it the Werewolf Liberation Movement.

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Legal Fictions: Documenting Your Vampire — 11 Comments

  1. In L. Jagi Lamplighter’s trilogy of Prospero Lost, Prospero In Hell, and Prospero Regained, Miranda is thinking very soon that she’s going to have to update her id soon, to handle her appearance and purported age. She thinks longingly of the days when you could establish an id by having someone write you a letter of recommendation.

    Later in the trilogy, someone discusses the extensive effort involved in creating ids. Fortunately, this character is able to start building when the person in question should have been born to be the age he appears. Most characters do not have that luxury. Also he had connections with an extended family that contains doctors to fake the birth certificates, vaccinations, and other people to fake other records. (He’s very glad of home schooling.)

  2. I’ve been writing about the late Roman empire and (as you might expect) they were not long on record keeping. If you traveled to Thrace in your time machine and (assuming you are fluent in Latin) just declared that you were a Roman citizen from Galicia, no one would be likely to check up on your bona fides. Likewise, the status of wife, or slave, was kind of loosey-goosey. If you acted and were treated like the wife, you were the wife. If you acted and were treated like a slave, you’re a slave. No paperwork — but there are plenty of lawsuits on records, people alleging that so-and-so is really a slave or really not his wife. The modern computerization of records has completely altered the landscape for aliens, time-travelers, and eldritch visitors from other vibrational planes.

    One solution that my hero (bless his pointy head) thought of was to travel back in time and rent a PO box. You would then have a legal address, from which you could run a business, apply for citizenship, and so forth.

    • I don’t know if PO box would solve all those problems. I think many things — car registration, tax forms, maybe even driver’s licenses — require a street address to make sure you’re living there.

      In the modern US, a social security card is really important. When I moved back to Texas, I had to have one to get a driver’s license. This despite the fact that I (a) had a DC driver’s license, (b) have a U.S. passport, (c) had once before had a Texas driver’s license, and (d) was born in this damn state. This entailed a trip to the Social Security office, because I lost my social security card many years ago and had never bothered to replace it because I knew the number. My last employer took the passport as proof of citizenship when I went to work there.

      Maybe your time traveler should go back to a time that would be about right for his birth and get a social security number for a new born baby. I don’t know what that entails, but it seems to me that back when I got mine — probably when I started working in high school — that it was very easy to get.

  3. Mmm, well the PO box was actually revolving around proving his place of employment, for his security clearance. (Much, much fun can be had with security clearances.) He didn’t want to just buy a piece of property — with Google Earth you could go and look at the address, and immediately see that it was not as advertised.
    But you do not need a time machine for SSN fraud. You scout obituary pages until you find a child or baby who has died, who was born on or near the year of your birth. You write to the hospital, asking for a copy of the birth certificate. Then you use this to get your SSN, and away you go. People do this all the time and do not evey bother to find a person who has died; this leads to kids putting their SSN in for the first time and discovering that they’ve actually been working in fruit harvesting in Sonoma County for twenty years.
    I believe though if you arrive in this country with a birth certificate from your native land that you can use it to acquire a SSN here (after you become a citizen).

    • I have heard about getting birth certificates and SSNs that way since the 70s, but not being a time traveler or vampire — not to mention a criminal — I have never needed to try it and see if it’s as easy as it sounds.

      • I think that twelve years ago it might have still been possible. Things have vastly tightened since 9-11 — if you and I and the time traveler could do it then clearly Al Qaeda could too. I believe that now with computerization this specific fraud is more difficult. But surely there are more creative ways.
        My hero was able to get a passport, birth certificate, and eventually US citizenship without much stress, because of his connections with a (authorial) foreign government. What he doesn’t have is the employment history that gets him a security clearance. He has a fictional one, teaching high school science at a nonexistent boarding school in Switzerland, which gives way if you press upon it. Hence the feeble thought of the PO Box. Unhelpful, since a school would necessarily have municipal records in Switzerland, sports records tied in with other schools, an alumni association, and so on.

    • Actually that was used in real life — Whittaker Chambers wrote of using it — and therefore they started to correlate with the death records.