Constitution Day

09/10/2010

Is it time for the United States Constitution to be amended over the way the government handles the issue of illegal immigration?

That’s the question Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and Political Science Dr. Tony Simones will throw out for debate during Dalton State’s annual observance of Constitution Day, which will be recognized this year on Thursday, September 16. Students, community members, and faculty and staff are all encouraged to “put their two cents in” during the discussion forum that begins at 7:30 pm that night in Goodroe Auditorium of Memorial Hall.

While Simones is leading the discussion, he says he won’t be expressing any opinions of his own.

“Every year during this Constitution Day event, I try to pose a question that seems relevant for the times in order to stimulate discussion about the significance of this document,” he says.

“My goal is to create a dialog with the audience about whether they think the Constitution is able to handle the problem of immigration and to see whether they feel it’s time to change the Constitution over this issue. My intention is not to influence the audience one way or the other; it’s simply to get them to wrestle with these issues.”

The annual observance of Constitution Day is mandated for each educational institution that receives federal funding, says Shawntay Simones, Coordinator for Civic Engagement, who notes that the observance must take place within a week or two of Constitution Day, which is September 17.

The American Democracy Project, sponsored by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), promotes this mandated observance as an opportunity “to encourage students to reflect on our government, our liberties, and our obligations as citizens of democracy,” Shawntay explains.

As he has done for the past four years, Tony Simones will facilitate a discussion that he admits may turn “testy” this year because of the controversial nature of the subject matter.

“There is a great deal of interest in this topic this year because of the recent legislation enacted in Arizona that provides the state with powerful weapons in the battle against illegal immigration,” he says.

“Many people on both sides have strong feelings on these questions, and for some, these types of discussions can become too heated and they become uncomfortable sitting through them. That’s why we try to make sure that attendees know that the possibility for a very intense discussion does exist, and why we think this type of forum is not appropriate for young children.”

Simones says there are three broad areas that will serve as springboards for discussion on this topic: one, he says, is the fact that the Constitution gives almost total control over this issue to the federal government; two, that the 4th Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures; and three, that the 14th Amendment states that all persons born in the United States are citizens of the United States.

“Any reforms in the law on immigration must be measured against the Constitution,” he says.  “If the changes the people want are inconsistent with the constitutional provisions that govern these matters, then maybe it is time for us to amend the Constitution.”

Many people, says Simones, believe that the Constitution is a “static” document and that amendments to the Constitution are seldom made anymore. He does, however, find that understandable due to the fact that the last real substantial change in the Constitution took place in 1971 when 18-year-olds were given the right to vote.

But the Constitution can now, and can always, be amended, he says, should the will of the people and their elected officials decide to make changes to it.

“Constitution Day gives us an opportunity to highlight different aspects of the Constitution and have a conversation over it,” Simones says. “I wish we could come together monthly to talk about these things instead of just once a year.”