We are pleased to feature a guest blog by Jaclyn Burge, a senior at Kingsburg High School in Kingsburg, California. Jaclyn participated in the 2010 Constitutional Academy. Jaclyn is responding to our question, “Why do you think being engaged in civics is so important as a young person? What have you done, do you do, to participate in your local government? What resistance if any have you seen from your peers to follow in your footsteps?”

Here’s what Jaclyn had to say about her efforts to increase her fellow students’ interest in civics:

My name is Jaclyn Burge, and I am Californian who was fortunate enough to attend the Constitutional Academy last summer!  I have been very happy to bring back my passion for the Constitution home with me, since then I founded a Pre-Law Club at my school, with the following goals:

  • To promote citizenship and active participation in society.
  • To learn about the ways of the U.S. Government, Constitution, and law.
  • To provide members with an understanding of how to pursue a career in law.
  • To debate and investigate important issues in our society.
  • To develop the qualities of patriotism, justice, and good will.

For a new club with a more academic purpose than some of the other club on campus, I was impressed by the interest students showed. Some of our major events included observing the California Supreme Court’s educational visit to a courthouse near our school and setting up a school wide election to vote for the new California governor, senators, and propositions.

Our major project for the second semester was a mock trial, People vs. The State of Arizona, on the Arizona Immigration Law.  We applied for and received a $500 grant from the League of Women Voters to do this.

The trial included the defense and prosecuting attorneys (I was the defense), five witnesses, a judge, and a bailiff.  Each witness was able to choose their own background story and get creative with the scripts each of them wrote to answer our attorney questions.  It took a couple of months to prepare the script, written by the students involved with the help of our advisor, and rehearse.  We preformed it for the League of Women Voters on Friday, May 20th.

Our goal was to reveal the constitutional issues on both sides of the case, and a jury of 12 students was chosen to determine the ruling at the end.  For some background information, the Arizona Law, also known as The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood’s Act (SB 1070), is legislation designed to greatly decrease, if not eliminate, illegal immigration within Arizona’s state borders.  Police would have the latitude to question suspected illegal immigrants in the course of a stop for other criminal activity.  State employees would be required to ask applicants for proof of legal residency if a client is requesting services or employment, and if found in violation of SB 1070, fines could be incurred from $1,000 to $5,000 a day.  According to the Peoples’ Case, our prosecuting attorney emphasized his belief that the law violated the Exclusionary Rule, Due Process, the Equal Protection Clause, and laws against Racial Profiling.  According to the State’s Case, our defense side emphasized that according to the amendment to the law (HB 2162: “prosecutors would not investigate compliance based on race, color, or national origin,” but only by “lawful stop, detention, or arrest.”) racial profiling would not be a factor. The State’s deference believed the law simply enforces federal law already in place concerning illegal immigration, it is an issue of state and national security, the federal government has not done its duty to protect the state borders as spelled out in Article IV, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution, and the legislation is constitutional under the Necessary and Proper Clause.

We had 5 witnesses: 2 for the People and 3 for the State.  For the People, the first witness was Isaac Rodriguez, a University of Colorado student studying civil engineering and a legal U.S. Citizen who felt discriminated against due to racial profiling he felt was in place due to the Arizona legislation.  Despite the out-of-state tuition costs, he chose to move to Colorado rather than stay in his home state to attend the University of Arizona to avoid the discrimination.

The second witness was an illegal immigrant named Javier Garcia who came to Arizona at the age of 3, learned the truth from his parents when he was 17, and is now 41.  He is now a very successful Arizona businessman, model “citizen,” and father of three daughters, but has to leave Arizona with his family due to the legislation. In cross-examination, I highlighted that he had 24 years to try to fix his illegal residency issue, but chose to focus on other things instead.

For the State, I first questioned Governor Jan Brewer, who gave testimony to the dangers of illegal immigration and signed the law, endorsing it as a necessity to protect Arizona citizens. The cross-examination brought up the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, pointing out that the language says “any person,” not “any citizen.”

The second witness was David Levinsky, a legal Russian immigrant and U.S. citizen who waited 6 years before he could move here with his family, maintaining that the process was fair and condemning those who disrespectfully come here illegally.  The cross-examination asked him if he was aware of the horribly inhumane conditions just 10 miles south of the Arizona border, and asked if he would have done whatever was necessary to bring his children here away from those life-threatening conditions (to which Mr. Levinsky replied, “No, I would not break the law,” and the prosecution attorney rolled his eyes).

Next up was Sarah Sanders, an Arizona resident and U.S. citizen, whose son at age 17 was shot and killed by an illegal immigrant, while she was fighting for our country in Iraq.  She believed her son’s death could have been prevented if a law such as SB 1070 was in place at the time, but the cross-examination pointed out that the murderer was also a gang member, and thus this had nothing to do with the law.

Finally, after our closing statements, the jury went outside to deliberate and rendered a verdict in favor of the People, citing Racial Profiling and the absence of Due Process.  Even though my side lost, it was a win in my mind to be able to share my love for the Constitution with so many students as they began to think critically about what it means to us today.  The League of Women Voters was very impressed by our project, and I hope that the club will continue to do this annually after I graduate this year!

-          Jaclyn

What have you done as a teacher to increase civic engagement among your students? Do you think the students in your school would participate in a club similar to this one?


Students – what could you do in your school to help your fellow students appreciate the Constitution more?

**In picture above from left to right: Javier Garcia – Javier Garcia; Mrs. Siebenaler – our club advisor and my favorite teacher for several reasons, including the fact she recommended me for the Constitutional Academy!; Kanykei Tursunbaeva – the judge; Bradley Lewis – the prosecuting attorney; Isaac Raven – Isaac Rodriguez; Austin Moore – the bailiff; Jaclyn Burge (me) – the defense attorney; Kelly Esau – Sarah Sanders; Rachel Muradian – Governor Jan Brewer; and up, Chris Velasquez – David Levinsky.

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