I understand that in the US, concealment of birth is against the law. I looked it up, and apparently it is a felony in most US states. (FYI I'm asking because it pertains to a work of fiction I'm writing before anyone gets the wrong idea about me!) Here's the question...

What are the legal ramifications towards an individual whose parents are deceased but they committed concealment of birth when the individual was born. As a result, this individual has no SSN and might not legally exist. Could they be in legal jeopardy in any way? Can the US or their state of birth (lets say WV) compel them to register in some way?

  • I don't recall that I needed a birth certificate to get an SSN. Is that now required? Aug 13, 2023 at 20:15
  • @MichaelHardy nowadays SSNs are assigned at birth as I understand it. I don't remember whether I needed to show my b.c. to get an SSN as a teenager, but I know that proof of US citizenship, lawful permanent residence, or other employment eligibility is necessary, and this person won't have that. The b.c. is not the only possible proof of citizenship, but they'll have none of the other options either.
    – phoog
    Aug 14, 2023 at 8:53
  • @phoog : My understanding is that it has become customary for hospitals to provide parents of babies born there the documents needed to apply for a SSN, and that under current law, they cannot claim a dependent on their tax return who has no SSN. But I'm fairly sure that they're not required to get their child a SSN, nor does the law require everyone to have one. Aug 14, 2023 at 18:55
  • @MichaelHardy it is rather the case that the hospital will handle the application on the parents' behalf along with the application for the birth certificate, so all the parents have to do is say "yes" when asked if they want to do that. See blog.ssa.gov/how-to-get-your-new-babys-social-security-number also faq.ssa.gov/en-US/Topic/article/KA-01969 ("If you apply at the hospital, the state agency that issues birth certificates will share your child’s information with us. Then, we will mail the Social Security card to you.") You're right that it's not required.
    – phoog
    Aug 14, 2023 at 19:56
  • A real-world example is described in the memoir Educated by Tara Westover.
    – Archie
    Aug 16, 2023 at 15:09

3 Answers 3


Does this person have witnesses to his existence? Particularly before the age of five?

Under 8 U.S. Code § 1401, native-born citizens include

a person of unknown parentage found in the United States while under the age of five years, until shown, prior to his attaining the age of twenty-one years, not to have been born in the United States;

If he appears out of nowhere, he is likely to be suspect of illegal immigration. Age may be a factor there, too.

  • 20
    I call that particular statute the "Superman clause" because it is the basis upon which the D.C. Comics character "Superman" is a U.S. citizen despite not being born in the U.S. and not having U.S. citizen parents.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 10, 2023 at 19:01
  • 1
    @ohwilleke Entirely accurately, too
    – Mary
    Aug 10, 2023 at 22:57
  • @ohwilleke how old was Superman when his alien birth and parentage became known?
    – phoog
    Aug 14, 2023 at 8:49
  • @phoog Depends on the author! But you would need to prove it in a court of law.
    – Mary
    Aug 14, 2023 at 12:12

As a result, this individual has no SSN and might not legally exist.

A living person exists. It is not necessary to be registered anywhere to exist.

Could they be in legal jeopardy in any way?

They won't be able to work until they register with the Social Security Administration. As suggested in another answer, they may have difficulty establishing eligibility for a Social Security number.

Can the US or their state of birth (lets say WV) compel them to register in some way?

The US could, as could the state of residence, for example by requiring the person to explain how he or she is supporting him or herself. Under the given facts the state of birth is unknown. (If the person's place of birth is somehow determined to have been in one of the states then the person was born in the United States and the person is a US citizen, so the other problems disappear.)

  • 7
    "A living person exists. It is not necessary to be registered anywhere to exist." Oh, come now, just because a living, breathing human being presents himself to a government official doesn't mean said government official will acknowledge his legal existence without proper paperwork... </snark> (and +1)
    – FreeMan
    Aug 10, 2023 at 12:55
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    @FreeMan having just gone through the process of getting a replacement SS card for my 17 year child -- Must have SS card to get State ID, "need" State ID to get SS after 16 years old -- This really rings true. The SS officer demanded a signed physicians note indicating the vitals: height, weight, hair/eye color and stating that the child is living! along with the original birth certificate naming myself as parent with my state issued id and a recent utility bill. Proper paperwork indeed.
    – user_48181
    Aug 10, 2023 at 17:22
  • 1
    @user_48181 but there will be several legal contexts in which the executive or a court would gladly accept the child's existence. As with the definition of legal terms (a frequent issue here), context matters.
    – phoog
    Aug 10, 2023 at 17:33
  • 4
    @FreeMan: It's proof of where you live not who you are.
    – Joshua
    Aug 10, 2023 at 18:28
  • 5
    @phoog People have enough problem trying to prove they aren't dead when they are accidentally mistakenly dead and issued death certificates.
    – DKNguyen
    Aug 10, 2023 at 18:36

It's difficult to document that a law requiring a person who cannot obtain proof of birth in the US to register his/her birth does not exist, since there is such a vast volume of state and federal law. But a document from USCIS states

If you were born in the United States, you do not need to apply to USCIS for any evidence of citizenship. Your birth certificate issued where you were born is proof of your citizenship.

There is a footnote explaining this does not necessarily apply to children of foreign diplomats.

So if there is a law, it would have to be a West Virginia law, and I am not aware of such a law. If such a law does exist, and violation of the law is a crime, then the State of West Virginia would have to prove all the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

The first element would be that the person was born in West Virginia. If proof beyond a reasonable doubt exists, and is in the possession of the prosecutor, no doubt the person's lawyer could find a way to compel the state to perform the necessary registration on the basis of the evidence the state already possesses, and the case becomes moot.

Another element that is likely to be in the law is that the person knows he/she was born in West Virginia. But if there isn't enough evidence to complete the registration process, the person could argue that he/she does not know if he/she were born in West Virginia.

If the person works, it is likely the person will appear to violate tax laws, because even if income taxes are withheld from wages, with no SSN to connect the person to the money that was withheld, it will appear the person failed to pay taxes.

In response to a comment by ohwilleke I will show why it was never the responsibility of the person who was born to file a birth certificate. The relevant WV law states

(a) A certificate of birth for each live birth which occurs in this state shall be filed with the section of vital statistics...

[if the birth is outside an institution the birth shall be reported by]

(1) The physician in attendance at or immediately after the birth;

(2) Any other person in attendance at or immediately after the birth;

(3) The father or the mother, or, in the absence of the father and the inability of the mother, the person in charge of the premises where the birth occurred; or

(4) Any other person qualified by the department by rule to establish the facts of birth.

I think it would be absurd to interpret the newborn as being in attendance at his/her own birth, and equally absurd to consider him/her to be qualified to establish the facts of birth.

  • 1
    Proof of U.S. citizenship is not what is regulated, what is regulated is concealing the birth. This prevent issuance of a birth certificate which makes proof of citizenship and proof of age challenging, although not impossible.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 10, 2023 at 19:00
  • The crime in question would be something along the lines of this en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concealment_of_birth#United_States But the issue for the child wouldn't be a crime, it would be getting citizen, date of birth, inheritance, driver's license, SSN, voting, etc. sorted out without documentation from an official source. Deportation might be a risk as well (but see 8 USC § 1401). If registered to vote, a challenge of non-citizenship and ineligibility to vote could be raised.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 10, 2023 at 19:49
  • 1
    "the person knows he/she was born in West Virginia." Ignoring The Matrix, that's an unknowable question, since you were -- by definition -- a very new newborn when you were born. I only know where my birth certificate and relatives say that I was born. (This was actually relevant in the past when delayed birth certificates were not uncommon for rural folk.)
    – RonJohn
    Aug 11, 2023 at 18:27
  • @ohwilleke: "Deportation might be a risk as well" In deportation proceedings, the government first has the burden to prove that the person was born outside the US, which should not be possible in this case, unless they made a mistake.
    – user102008
    Aug 11, 2023 at 23:17
  • @RonJohn One of the old school ways that the law dealt with this issue is that there are broad exceptions to the hearsay rule for genealogical evidence like when and where someone was born and to whom.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 11, 2023 at 23:30

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