The protagonist of my story was a normal human transformed into a non-biological entity (long story); however, his new form is an (outwardly) exact physical and mental replica of his old. He can pass as human until close examination. Before the transformation, he was a U.S. citizen, native born, with a valid Social Security card, etc.

My question: would he still be considered by the (present) U.S. government to be a citizen on the S.S. rolls--a citizen--with all rights inherent? Would he be typed by the Feds as an illegal alien perhaps? If they determine he is not, what would be the status of all assets in his name--e.g., home, car, bank account, etc?

EDIT: The Government has discovered that he is no longer a human and law enforcement has asked him to come forward for an interview on suspicion of manslaughter. In this setting, superhumans are in the comics genre--ergo, he is the first and only super. And not a machine or even composed of regular matter/baryons. He has not been declared dead, and he considers himself to be the same individual, only in a different form.

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    $\begingroup$ Way too POB. Break this up into questions and provide more context, please. Or post on The Sandbox. $\endgroup$ – FoxElemental May 9 '18 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ If the GOVT doesn't know he's a machine, then is still human for them. How would they find out? The guy goes to the mechanic not for his car but for himself, that would be suspicious. $\endgroup$ – Vincent May 9 '18 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ The options are only "citizen" or "machine". It all depends on what is meant by "transformed into a non-biological entity". Was there a moment during the transformation when he was dead? (No pulse, no breathing, no brain activity.) In that case it is most certainly not a citizen, but a machine. Otherwise, was the transformation total? For example, there are people who are partially made up of pieces of metal or plastic, and nobody contests their citizenship. Really, the question would benefit greatly from explaining in what way a machine is the result of a "transformation" of a human. $\endgroup$ – AlexP May 9 '18 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Technically whether he "survived" the procedure isn't important it's whether he was reported as dead, if a death certificate was filed, or a time of death recorded. As far as his purely government paperwork status goes anyway. $\endgroup$ – Ash May 9 '18 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ If you also want to get technical, the argument of he died and this is a new seperate life would still make him a natural born U.S. Citizen as he was (re)born within the United States territory and is not a member of an invading force OR he was (re)born anywhere on the planet and is the offspring of at least one person who is a U.S. Citizen at time of birth. $\endgroup$ – hszmv May 9 '18 at 17:49

Chances are, he will keep his US Citizenship

First of all, he needs to be declared human. Non-human can't be a Citizen nor an alien (in USCIS sense). This issue will be tricky and will take time, probably going up all the way to SCOTUS, but from what I see, he has a high chance of keeping all of his human rights. Declaring this person a "non-human" would just be too controversial.

Next would be a Citizen vs Alien decision. He may be declared the same person, or not. Chances are, again, higher that he would legally be the same person, but the court may want to avoid setting the precedent and declare him a new one. By the way, declaring him a "new human" would be much less controversial that declaring a "non-human". And this will have a direct implication on the citizenship. If a new human does not get full inheritance from the old self (like SSN), he may not automatically gain citizenship. And if his transformation occurred outside the US, he's not getting citizenship by birthright. In this case he may indeed lose US citizenship, but may get some other citizenship instead.

  • $\begingroup$ "New" human, interesting. Is there such a thing in U.S. Law? If not, would it have to be promulgated into the code before any decrees about his status would be made? $\endgroup$ – catsteevens May 14 '18 at 21:19
  • $\begingroup$ "New" human in the sense of "different" human. By default everyone is treated as a separate person. If someone needs to establish that John Doe and Joe Schmoe are the same person, it would require a court order. $\endgroup$ – Alexander May 14 '18 at 21:25

There's no clear answer, since our existing laws do not cover this, and I doubt that there's any real-world analogy to fall back on.

If someone in the government (the government is not a single entity with a single purpose or a single mind or even a single goal -- politics is all about getting people who believe different things and want different things to work together) decided to make an issue of it, it would undoubtedly go to court with the courts' job being to come up with a reasonable decision based on laws and precedents.

How that worked out would depend a lot on what the particular government agency that triggered to whole thing claimed. Is he a machine with no rights? An alien? A machine with rights? A machine copy of a dead man? A human, but a danger to the community? A human but a danger to the nation? An unregulated AI?

So one issue that might or might not be at the heart of the subsequent legal dispute is whether he is human. In this case, it would certainly wind up in the Supreme Court and they'd have to come up with a careful answer that didn't create unnecessary new law, but was true to the Constitution and the laws as written. (My only-slightly-educated guess is that he'd be declared to be the same person he'd always been.)

Or it might come down to a question of whether he is a danger. The law concerning that is pretty well worked out and the lower courts might well dispose of it.

Congress could always pass a law covering the issue and unless the Supreme Court found it to be unconstitutional, that would govern. But that's not very likely.

  • $\begingroup$ So it would be a legal nightmare I suppose. I could have his parents file papers that would declare him deceased for legal reasons, so his assets could be reverted? to them, but therefore he himself would have no right to those assets? $\endgroup$ – catsteevens May 9 '18 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ Unless he's a minor, his parents would have little say in the matter. $\endgroup$ – Mark Olson May 9 '18 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ @MarkOlson, they could try to have him declared first missing and then legally dead. That spectre hopping around? Not him, even if it looks a bit like him. He was a human, after all. $\endgroup$ – o.m. May 9 '18 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ So the United States does explicitly said laws can not be made for theoretical issues (that is, you can't have laws on Vampire hunting unless their are Vampires to hunt). Having said that, we do have robotic prosthetic limbs... these do not affect the user's citizenship... If he still thinks like he did before this transformation, than that means there is a part of him, however small, that is still intact. Thus he has not died, but had a change occur to him medically. Thus the form has changed, but not the citizenship status. $\endgroup$ – hszmv May 9 '18 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ No, Congress can make any law they choose, as long as it does not contradict the Constitution. But it's been a firm rule of the Judiciary that they only try "live" cases, that is, cases where there is an actual controversy with two actual parties with actual stakes in the matter. So while Congress could pass a law regulating vampires, the judiciary would decline to rule on it until a case involving a vampire came before it. $\endgroup$ – Mark Olson May 9 '18 at 18:08

This is a really legal gray area. You could write the entire story just about the legal case.

The definition of death is medical & biological: end of heartbeat or brain activity: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_death His form and memories are too imprecise and abstract to argue over.

Argument for citizenship would be the strongest if the transformed body has a heart that beats and brain that generates recognizable electrical signal. It would also help if there is no body (and no biological matter) left over after his transformation.

The argument against him being alive is that he is a fancy robot equipped with advanced chatbot and voice synthesizer. With a few more advances in modern technology, you could create a fairly convincing imitation of a human being. Chatbot and visual recognition system can be trained with things that a specific person is supposed to remember. So if we grant citizenship to your protagonist, should we grant citizenship to those robotic copies as well?

Even if he does have have a brain, the key argument here might be whether each neuron of his old brain was copied or transformed into the new form, and if they function the same way. If yes, his new brain could be viewed as a form of prosthetic (similar to artificial heart), so he is a person. If no, his "brain" is a fancy computer similation, and not a person.

There might be a middle ground actually: he is declared to be a person, but a mentally disabled one, and hence a ward of the state or his parents or family.

The example here is people with brain injuries or dementia - they might have lost good chunk of their memories, skills and personality traits, but they are still the same legal person. But they will never be trusted to make financial decisions, drive cars, use kitchen knives, etc.

PS It might not matter much: he will likely be locked up in a government institution in either case. B/c even if he is a person and a citizen, he is still made out of some unknown matter, which might be radioactive, or can explode when exposed to some specific chemical, or maybe his breath is toxic, or maybe it takes time for the negative effects to build up. And most importanly, maybe his condition is contagious, or he can spread it under the right circumstances.

  • $\begingroup$ Hmm... his skin is impenetrable, so heartbeat and brain activity cannot be determined. Indeed, using current technology, it can't be determined whether he even has a brain or heart. $\endgroup$ – catsteevens May 9 '18 at 17:27
  • $\begingroup$ no brain, no heart, no citizenship! $\endgroup$ – Bald Bear May 9 '18 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ I mean seriously, how do you know it's not a swarm of evil space bugs inside of that impenetrable skin, who are spying for an upcoming invasion? $\endgroup$ – Bald Bear May 9 '18 at 17:51

I think that to declare him an illegal alien and not a thing or animal, the government would have to claim that he is human, which means that he would retain citizenship as a matter of course. The decisions and precedents would be about his humanity, not his citizenship.

Another interesting angle is religion. While the US legally has a separation of church and state, in practice religious beliefs play a huge role in the private thoughts and public actions of citizens and elected officials alike. If an influential TV evangelist or bishop hears about the case and declares the character an angel, a devil, or a machine simply because he doesn't fit readily into the dogma of dead and afterlife, this would greatly polarize the debate and it might cause some leaders to side with the cleric.


I'm going to go with the controversial answer here and say that an essential part of the answer depends entirely by what you mean by "super".

If this person is more like superman than batman, the answer to "do the feds...?" is mu. That is to say, it doesn't matter. The law is a fiction that exists only so far as someone is willing (and able) to enforce it at the point of a gun. If he can't be bulleted into compliance, than any laws concerning "who owns what" concerning him are meaningless, especially if there is no one to raise hell about it.

If it's his own stuff, that means there won't be any sympathetic ears, ergo, he keeps his stuff. The law will bend to accommodate.

If he's somewhere between batman and superman, the question gets substantially more nuanced, but still ultimately boils down to "how much violence are we willing to engage in to get him to do (or stop doing) something" and "how much violence will be necessary to get him to stop... existing".


If he made any publicity before the government hid him away, this becomes less of a legal issue at first than a political one since the question asks about how it would go down if it happened today. There is stuff in the news every day regarding immigration and if one political person or another thought it would help their case, they would be all over it.

I prefaced the statement the way I did because I believe that if the government found out about his powers, the powers would become the focus more than any other factor. A powered person is first and foremost a threat to national security, and secondly a potential weapon.

I am not a lawyer and can't give a legal opinion. Ideally all that would mater is that he was born a citizen but I don't know.


The problem is more of a philosophical one than a legislative one (yet).

If all atoms in your body are replaced one after another (this actually happens over time), are you still the same person?

If your "native U.S." atoms are replaced with "non-native U.S." atoms, are you not a native U.S. citizen anymore? That would mean a U.S. citizen who lives most of his/her time out of the U.S. would at some point become non-native. While I believe that some people really think that way, this isn't currently the shared opinion in court, as I believe.

Now what happens if you replace the atoms faster or larger chunks at once? Does this change the reasoning. If so, then there must be a line. The court will have to draw the line, if necessary, but it is really a blurry thing.

For example, you explicitly wrote

[he] is no longer a human

What defines a human? When someone lost both arms and legs and get them replaced with prostheses, he still counts as human, no? But what if he gets replaced more, so that only the head remains? Would that still count as human? Surely many would say "He is just a head!" (as they said earlier "He is just a cripple!"). Are additions to the human make the humans inhuman? When a third arm is inhuman (and people grow third arms occasionally), why isn't the sixth finger on a hand (this also happens, humans are weird)?


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