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.