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PRESIDENT WILLIAM J. CLINTON
MESSAGE TO CONGRESS
THE UNFINISHED WORK OF BUILDING ONE AMERICA
January 15, 2001
I hereby submit this message to the 107th Congress of the United
States on the State of Race Relations in America. In it, I present my
personal assessment of the current national mood concerning race relations
and issue a set of concrete challenges that form what I call the unfinished
business of building One America. This report is an outgrowth of my
Administration?s consistent emphasis on racial reconciliation, most clearly
embodied in my Initiative on Race and our White House Office on One
America. But it also stems from my own personal commitment to racial
harmony that has its roots in the lessons and experiences of my childhood
in the racially segregated south. I dedicate this report to countless
civil rights champions of all colors who have struggled since the time of
Frederick Douglas for an America free from the bondage of racial injustice.
After eight years of service as President of the United States, I will
relinquish that title on January 20, 2001, when George W. Bush takes the
oath of office. But as a citizen, I will always try to serve my country
and to advance the ideals that propelled me into public service more than
two decades ago, none more important than racial reconciliation. It began
for me with the crisis at Little Rock in 1957. I was only 11 years old at
the time. Like most southerners then, I never attended school with a
person of another race until I went to college. Though discrimination had
always gnawed at me, it was the courage and sacrifice of those nine black
children who endured constant attacks, both physical and emotional, to
integrate Little Rock?s Central High School, that made racial equality a
driving commitment in my life. I came of age at the height of the civil
rights struggles of the sixties: the 1963 March on Washington, the passage
of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. I
vividly remember the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King
and Bobby Kennedy. Like any American who grew up in that era, my life was
shaped by those triumphs and tragedies. And ever since, I have been
inspired to join with others to carry on the fight for racial justice,
including justice for all Americans without regard to gender, ethnicity,
sexual orientation, disability, or religion. Progress on this road is
essential to our march toward the ?more perfect union? of our founders?
For eight years, my Administration has worked to build social and
economic bridges strong enough for all of us to walk across; to give all
responsible citizens equal opportunity to cross those bridges; and to
celebrate our great diversity while uniting around our common humanity,
values, and concerns. In a nation where soon the only majority will be
?American,? I believe we need to talk about race in a new way ? not just in
terms of black and white, but of the essential worth and dignity of all
people. Of course, racial tensions still exist in America. But, if we are
ever going to overcome them, we must begin to focus more on the things that
unite us than on those that divide us.
Let?s start with the remarkable fact that we are recognized around the
globe as the most successful multi-racial democracy in history, a model of
peaceful co-existence in a world torn by ethnic, racial and religious
conflict. With the current explosion of diversity in America, that image
of ourselves is being tested as never before.
America is undergoing one of the greatest demographic transformations
in history. We are a changing people. Just fifty years ago, whites made
up 90 percent of our population and the Census Bureau used only three major
categories to describe us: white, Negro, and ?other.? Those distinctions
were often reduced to just white and non-white. Since then, there has been
a rapid growth in our Hispanic, Asian American, and American Indian
populations. According to the latest statistics from the Census Bureau,
African Americans, with a population of 35 million, still constitute the
largest racial or ethnic group in America. But the gap is narrowing.
During the past decade, the Asian Pacific American population has emerged
as the fastest growing racial or ethnic group in America. Their numbers
have skyrocketed-- from 0.7% of the total U.S. population in 1970 to 4.0%
in 1999 ? more than 11 million strong. And with a population that has
grown from just 7 million in 1960 to more than 31 million today, Hispanics
are the second fastest growing racial or ethnic group in the country.
Today, almost ten percent of the people in the United States were born
in another country and one in five schoolchildren are from immigrant
families. There is no majority race in Hawaii or Houston or New York City.
In nine of our ten largest public school systems, over 75 percent of the
students are minorities. In a little more than 50 years there will be no
majority race in America.
This unprecedented infusion of diversity brings with it a complex and
sometimes controversial set of issues. Who, for example, decides who is
white and who is a person of color? What will the terms ?majority? and
?minority? mean when there is no majority race in America? And perhaps,
most important, will the black-white schism that has so defined racial
struggle in America morph into new minority versus minority divisions or
can we build new coalitions for social change and equal opportunity across
all racial lines?
As our nation grows more diverse and the world grows more
interdependent, our diversity will either be the great problem or the great
promise of the 21st century. Will we be two societies, ?separate and
unequal,? as the Kerner Commission concluded 33 years ago? We have made
progress that can be measured both in numbers and in the hearts and minds
of Americans. We have the lowest minority unemployment rate ever recorded,
record numbers of minority owned businesses, and minority educational
progress among all racial and ethnic groups. Perhaps even more important,
most of our children believe that racial harmony and respect for diversity
is the only way for all us to live and prosper. We have not yet reached
the dream of One America, but I believe in this century, we can and we
will. But it will take honest discussion about where we are and where we
want to go and vigorous, relevant efforts to deal with our remaining
This report is not intended to grapple with all aspects of the racial
divide in America, but to point to a number of concrete steps we can take
to equalize opportunity, maximize the great potential of our growing
diversity, and accelerate our journey to building the One America of our
dreams. I will offer recommendations in seven broad areas of unfinished
business: Economic and Social Progress, Education, Civil Rights
Enforcement, Criminal Justice Reform, Eliminating Health Disparities,
Election Reform, and Civic Responsibility. I offer these recommendations
in the hope that they will be helpful, not only to the 107th Congress and
the new administration, but to all of us as we continue the work of healing
the racial wounds of the past and pointing the way to a more just future of
greater opportunity for all Americans.
We must keep working to connect the threads of our coat of many colors
into the fabric of One America.
I. ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL PROGRESS
New Markets ? Ensuring that the Benefits of Our Strong Economy Reach
By any measure, America has prospered, both economically and socially
over the last eight years. We are now experiencing the longest economic
expansion in history. We have a balanced budget. We have turned decades
of deficits into the biggest back-to-back surpluses in history. And we
have achieved what many people once thought impossible ? we are paying down
our national debt. In fact, we are well on our way to making America
debt-free by the year 2010 ? the first time this has happened since Andrew
Jackson was President in 1835.
The rising tide of our strong economy is lifting all boats. Between
1980 and 1992 the bottom 60 percent of Americans saw little, if any,
increase in income. Unemployment for African Americans and Hispanics
reached record highs and the poverty rate for African Americans remained at
or above 30 percent.
Today, for the first time in decades, wages are rising at all income
levels. Not only did every major income group see double-digit income
growth, but the lowest 20 percent saw the largest income growth since 1993.
The unemployment rate for African Americans fell from 14.2 percent in 1992
to 7.6 percent today. The drop in unemployment among Hispanics has been
just as dramatic ? from 11.6 percent in 1992 to 5.7 percent today. We have
the lowest child poverty rate in 20 years, the lowest poverty rate for
single mothers ever recorded. The highest homeownership on record. Record
numbers of Americans have left welfare for work, and those still on welfare
are five times more likely to be working than eight years ago. And the
number of families who own stock has grown by 40 percent.
But America is not just better off, we are also more hopeful, more
secure, more free, and more united than ever before. We have worked to
increase opportunity with commitments to improve funding and higher
standards in Head Start and in secondary education; to open the doors of
college and job training to all; to provide tax relief to lower-income
working families; to increase loans to minority small businesses; and to
launch efforts to close the digital divide and open new markets to
communities that are not yet part of our prosperity. We governed with a
belief and commitment that we could turn around our fiscal situation and
still find resources to empower the hardest-pressed families while creating
new opportunities. That is why, even in our 1993 deficit reduction bill,
we found the resources to make an historic expansion of the Earned Income
Tax Credit while creating a new Federal Empowerment Zone initiative ?
effectively led by Vice President Gore.
While maintaining fiscal discipline, we have worked to increase
opportunity by more than doubling funding for Head Start, increasing
efforts to close the digital divide by 300 percent, increasing Pell Grants
by more than 60 percent for millions, starting new initiatives to provide
mentoring and job opportunities for economically disadvantaged and minority
youth, reforming and strengthening the Community Reinvestment Act, and
initiating the Community Development Financial initiative, expanding loans
to minority small businesses.
There is also a rising tide of shared responsibility across the land.
Crime is at a 25-year low. Teen pregnancy is down. Our environment is
cleaner and more secure. Citizens are reclaiming control of their families
and neighborhoods and we are seeing the re-emergence of our oldest and most
basic values ? opportunity for all, responsibility from all, in a community
of all Americans.
But despite all this progress, there remain pockets of poverty in
America where the light of our glowing prosperity still does not shine. In
December of 1997, I paid a visit to an area of the South Bronx that had
once been close to the economic equivalent of an impoverished developing
country. Too many of the people living there were under-employed and
under-housed and the financial community had traditionally under-invested
in them. When President Reagan visited the area in the 1980s, he compared
it to London in the Blitz. For many it seemed like a community beyond hope
The transformation I saw three years later was remarkable. That South
Bronx neighborhood had gone from decay and chaos to development and pride;
from a fragmented collection of individuals struggling to survive to a
cohesive community of citizens, working to build a better life for
everyone. What I saw made me proud to be an American.
How did it happen? The people of the South Bronx simply refused to
accept the conventional wisdom about the poor, and they worked hard to
create economic opportunity, fueled by partnerships between the public and
private sectors. They began by asking the right questions: ?Why shouldn?t
I be able to work in my hometown, or have a transportation system that will
get me to good jobs? Why shouldn?t people here be able to get decent
housing? Why shouldn?t our children be able to walk the streets here? Why
shouldn?t we have decent schools here, and grocery stores and banks?? Over
time, they found and created the right answers. Their story demonstrates
something I have always believed: most Americans ? rich, poor or middle
class ? welcome the opportunity to work hard and make the most of their
That determined spirit is exactly what I saw when I traveled across
America to shine a spotlight on places still untouched by our nation?s
growing prosperity. And I am pleased that I was joined by Speaker Hastert
and a bipartisan group of political and business leaders who share my view
that every community should have the chance to share in the prosperity all
of us have worked so hard to build.
We began our New Markets tour in July of 1999, during four days of one
of the hottest summers on record. I went to places that have been too long
forgotten and too long left behind: Hazard, Kentucky, in the heart of
Appalachia; Clarksdale, in the Mississippi Delta; East St. Louis, where
poverty is three times the national average; South Dakota?s Pine Ridge
Reservation, where unemployment is nearly 75 percent; the neighborhood of
South Phoenix, Arizona where unemployment is more than twice the national
average; and the Watts section of Los Angeles, an area that for decades has
been a symbol of urban neglect and isolation in a nation of plenty.
Yes, we did see poverty, but we also saw an awful lot of promise too.
I went to these places to promote our New Markets Initiative ? a strategy
that builds on our successful Empowerment Zone/Enterprise Communities
agenda, which Vice President Gore has led so ably. Our New Markets
Initiative gives businesses the same incentives to invest in our
hardest-pressed communities here at home that it gives them to invest in
developing nations around the world. It is designed to create the
conditions for economic success in distressed communities by leveraging $15
billion in new investment in urban and rural areas. It was important that
business leaders joined us at every stop so that they could see for
themselves what they had been missing. I wanted them to see the enormous
opportunities in America?s new markets. As Robert Kennedy said in 1967, ?We
must turn the power and resources of our private enterprise system to the
underdeveloped nations within our midst.? We need to unleash the power of
mainstream financial markets linked to effective community-based partners
so that people in distressed communities can have access to what I call the
tools of opportunity?these include access to credit, capital and jobs.
Hard-pressed communities cannot be expected to lift themselves up on
their own. In addition to their own sweat equity, they need and deserve
help. That is why we have worked so hard to put in place an empowerment
agenda from a number of sources, including local and federal programs,
financial institutions, and technical assistance providers. Without a
critical level of credit and financing, however, all their efforts will be
I am pleased that the Congress put partisanship aside to pass our New
Markets Initiative last month. But that is only one part of our
empowerment agenda. We should also raise the minimum wage, provide more
child care assistance, and health care coverage to the working poor by
covering those whose children are already covered under the Children?s
Health Insurance Program (CHIP). We should also expand the Family and
Medical Leave Act, so more parents can succeed at home and at work. We
should make sure women receive equal pay for equal work and expand the
American Private Investment Companies Act (APIC), which would help raise
equity capital for major investment and job opportunities in our own
country, just as we encourage overseas investment through the Overseas
Private Investment Corporation.
Recommendation: Vigorously implement the New Markets legislation and pass
more of the Empowerment Agenda; a substantial increase in the minimum wage;
more child care; health care for working parents, starting with the parents
of children already covered under CHIP; more education, training and
mentoring for minority youths; legislation to ensure that women get equal
pay for equal work; and expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act; and
passage of APIC.
Economic empowerment alone is not enough to build strong communities.
The most basic building block of strong communities is strong families.
Every child deserves the love and support of both parents. Still, nearly
one in three American children grows up without a father. These children
are five times more likely to live in poverty than children with both
parents at home. Clearly, demanding and supporting responsible fatherhood
is critical to lifting all children out of poverty and is an important
component of welfare reform.
Throughout our Administration, Vice President Gore and I have
encouraged fathers to take an active and responsible role in their
children's lives. We worked hard to ensure that absent parents provide both
financial and emotional support for their children. Tough new child support
measures promoted by our Administration contributed to doubling child
support collections since 1992, while the number of fathers taking
responsibility for their children by establishing paternity tripled. Many
fathers want to do right by their children, but need help to do it. The
Welfare-to-Work program that we fought for in 1997 provided a major new
funding source to help low-income noncustodial parents (mainly fathers)
work and support their children, and the FY 2001 budget will give state,
local, tribal, and community- and faith-based grantees an additional two
years to spend existing funds. We provided communities and families with
new tools to increase fathers? involvement in their children?s learning.
And, teen pregnancy and birth rates have declined to the lowest levels on
My FY 2001 budget proposed several new initiatives to ensure that
noncustodial parents who can afford to pay child support do, to ensure that
more of the child support paid goes directly to families, and to help more
?deadbroke? fathers go to work. My Administration worked closely with
Congress to seek enactment of the Child Support Distribution Act of 2000,
which included many elements of our proposals for child support reforms and
responsible fatherhood initiatives. Unfortunately, the 106th Congress
failed to pass this legislation, despite strong bi-partisan support. I
urge the new Congress to pass a bipartisan fatherhood bill to help more
fathers live up to their responsibilities and to strengthen families and
Recommendation: Pass a bipartisan fatherhood bill that provides grants to
help low-income and non-custodial parents -- mainly fathers -- work, pay
child support and reconnect with their children.
One year ago, I emphasized in my State of the Union address that we
should "begin this new century by honoring our historic responsibility to
empower the first Americans." While we are living in a time of great
prosperity and progress, for many Native Americans, the picture is quite
different. Even though economic conditions in Indian country have
improved in recent years, the social, economic and educational status of
American Indian and Alaska Native communities continue to lag behind the
rest of the United States.
That is why I made improving conditions in Indian Country a high
priority during my Administration. We worked with tribes on a
government-to-government basis to bring about positive change. Most
recently, I signed a new executive order that requires consultation with
Indian tribal governments in the development of Federal policies that have
tribal implications. I believe that honoring our trust responsibilities
and fostering government-to-government interaction is essential to
improving relationships with tribes.
In order to lift up Native American communities, we must focus on
three areas: economic development, health care, and education. A New
Markets approach holds much promise for many Native American communities.
I saw this first hand when I visited the Pine Ridge Reservation in South
Dakota and the Navajo Nation in Shiprock, New Mexico to highlight the needs
of our Nation's first peoples and to encourage private investments in these
areas. The final FY2001 budget agreement contains my historic new
bipartisan New Markets and Community Renewal Initiative which contains tax
credits and assistance for small businesses for underserved communities
across the Nation ? including Indian Country. I also fought for
legislation ? also included in the 2001 budget agreement ? that will treat
tribes similarly to state and local governments under the Federal
Unemployment Tax Act. Last year, I proposed a historic budget with the
largest increase ever for key new and existing programs for Native American
communities. We won much of our request with the final budget, including
an increase of $1.1 billion for Native Americans. The centerpieces of the
final budget represent the priorities for Indian Country. We have won
historic new increases for Bureau of Indian Affairs school construction and
repair which will provide an important down payment on reducing the backlog
of repairs and renovations needed. We also secured $75 million for
renovations for public schools with high concentrations of Native American
students. I am proud that we are continuing our 1000 new Native American
teacher initiative, and we were able to create a new Native American
Education Foundation to encourage private gifts to further educational
opportunities for American Indian children.
The Vice President and I also championed and won the largest increase
for the Indian Health Service ? an increase of 10 percent over FY2000 ? to
provide additional primary care services, more drug and alcohol prevention
and treatment services, and a $240 million increase for a special diabetes
program for Native Americans.
My sincere hope is that these budget victories will provide a baseline
for the next Administration to continue to work with tribes and lift up the
lives of this Nation's first Americans.
Recommendation: Make up for lost time by continuing to pass bipartisan
increases in our nation?s investment in turning around Native American
schools, reducing the enormous disparity in Native American health, and
attracting new business to Indian Country.
II. EDUCATIONAL EXCELLENCE FOR ALL CHILDREN
When Vice President Gore and I came into office in 1993, we pledged to
the American people that we would strengthen education at every level and
challenge the status quo by investing more in and demanding more from our
nation?s schools. Because every child can learn and every child deserves
the opportunity to realize his or her dreams, the promise of a world-class
education must be available to all Americans regardless of their income,
where they live, or the color of their skin. As we enter the 21st century,
nothing could be more important than investing in the public schools that
will prepare our children to be successful in an increasingly global
economy. Too often in the past we accepted low expectations for some
children, using labels and categories to excuse our failure to educate
During the last eight years we have clearly made progress in improving
our schools and helping more children succeed. For example, African
American high school graduation rates are virtually equal to those of
whites for the first time. Test scores for African Americans students are
up in virtually all categories, and between 1992 and 1999, math scores for
Hispanic students increased at the 4th, 8th, and 12th grade levels. In
addition, more minority students are being challenged by rigorous
coursework, which is an important precursor to post-secondary education.
Three times as many African American students took Advanced Placement (AP)
exams in 1999 as took the tests in 1988; and nearly 70,000 Hispanic
students took AP exams in 1999 ? the most ever.
Access to post-secondary opportunities also continues to increase for
minority students: the percentage of African American high school graduates
who go on to college has increased from 50 percent in 1992 to 58.5 percent
in 1997, and the percentage of Hispanic high school graduates going
directly to college increased from 55 percent in 1992 to 66 percent in
1997. Also, the percentage of Hispanic high school graduates age 25-29 who
have a college degree is the highest ever.
These improvements show that our commitment to education over the past
eight years is helping more of America?s students succeed, but they also
highlight the fact that much work remains to be done. For example,
achievement gaps between Hispanic and white students persist at all grade
levels and across most academic subjects; and more than 80 percent of
Hispanics are not introduced to college ?gateway? classes such as algebra
and geometry by the eighth grade. These gaps likely contribute to the
unacceptably low high school completion rate for Latinos, which has not
changed substantially in the past several years.
Eight years ago, the debate on education was usually divided into
partisan camps arguing over false choices. On one side were those who
believed that money could solve all the problems in our schools, and who
feared that setting high standards and holding schools and teachers and
students accountable to them would only hold back poor children, especially
poor minority children. On the other side, there were those who felt
education was a state responsibility, and did not need a comprehensive
national response ? or the leadership of a federal Department of Education.
They were willing to give up on our public schools and many of the children
in them because they did not believe that we could ensure a world-class
education for all students, and therefore, were unwilling to spend money
trying. We believed both of those positions were wrong because every
child can learn. There was plenty of evidence, even then, that high levels
of learning were possible in even the most difficult social and economic
circumstances. The challenge was to make the school transformation going
on in some schools available and real in all schools. We sought to do this
by both investing more in our schools and demanding more from them, with a
simple proven strategy: higher standards, greater accountability, more
investment, equal opportunity.
This strategy should continue to guide our efforts to improve
education. Last year, for the first time, Congress failed to fulfill its
obligation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In
May of 1999 I sent Congress a proposal that would fundamentally change the
way the federal government invests in our schools -- to support more of
what we know works, and to stop supporting what we know does not work. It
would help put quality teachers in all classrooms; send report cards to all
parents on the performance of each school; end social promotion, but offer
help for students rather than blaming them when the system fails them; and
require a plan to identify failing schools and improve them, or shut them
down. I have also favored voluntary national tests in fourth grade reading
and eighth grade math -- developed in a nonpartisan and professional manner
-- as a way to measure student progress within and across state borders as
the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAPE) tests do today.
Congress and the new Administration must act on this legislation, and I
hope they will do it in a way that makes progress on accountability, while
increasing key investments in what works.
The fundamental lesson of the last seven years, it seems to me, is
that an education investment without accountability can be a real waste of
money. But accountability without investment can be a real waste of effort.
All schools need adequate resources to provide all of our children with a
world-class education and yet too often, many schools in poor communities
cannot meet this goal because they simply don?t have the resources.
Long-standing gaps in access to educational resources exist, including
disparities based on race and ethnicity. That?s why I am appointing a
Presidential Commission on resource equity charged with gathering data on
this problem and reporting to the President, Congress, and the nation on
the best strategies to close this equity gap.
I've also asked Congress to make a range of other investments to make
accountability work. These include reduced class sizes, hiring additional,
well-qualified teachers, and expanding after-school and summer school
programs to help children succeed.
Congress has responded with bipartisan support for many elements of
this plan, including the largest education budget in history this year,
which as permitted us to more than double federal support for local schools
over the last eight years.
We know that children learn better in smaller classes. This year, we
won $1.6 billion to hire 37,000 new, qualified teachers to lower class size
to eighteen in the first three grades, keeping us on track toward our goal
of hiring100,000 new teachers.
We also know that children cannot not be expected to lift themselves
up in schools that are literally falling down. The average school building
in the United States is 42 years old, while in many cities the average is
65 years old. There are schools in New York City, for example, that are
still being heated by coal-fired furnaces, schools in states all over
America too poorly wired to connect to the Internet, and schools so
overcrowded the playgrounds are filled with trailer classrooms. For four
years I have tried to get the Congress to approve my $25 billion tax credit
to help to build or modernize 5,000 schools. America?s school children are
still waiting for this help. This year, we did win $1.2 billion in
spending for urgent school repairs. This is a start, but far short of
making the kind of investment needed to provide our children with the
schools they deserve.
Since 1997, we?ve made progress in expanding after-school programs
that offer additional learning opportunities for students and prevent
juvenile crime. This year we nearly doubled funding for 21st Century
Community Learning Centers to $846 million, serving 1.3 million students
nationwide. I call on Congress to support these proven programs until we
can provide these opportunities for all the estimated 4 million latch-key
children in our country.
With the largest expansion of college aid since the GI Bill, we are
opening the doors of college to all, so that more of our young people can
not only walk through them, but walk out with a degree four years later.
The percentage of young people going to college is up 10 percent since
1990, because the rewards of college are greater than ever, and because of
investments like our GEAR UP mentoring program which, with this year?s
increases, will now help 2.1 million low-income middle school students
finish school and prepare for college. Our HOPE Scholarship and Lifetime
Learning Tax Credits are also helping 13 million Americans pay for college.
Thanks to more affordable student loans, students have saved $9 billion
since 1994, about $1,300 on each $10,000 loan. We have increased Pell
Grants to a maximum of $3,750 this year; and created 300,000 more work
We cannot close disparities in race if we do not close the remaining
disparities in education. It is just that simple. This means expanding
efforts to tie investment to accountability, so that every child,
regardless of race, class, ethnicity, income or background, can get a
first-class public school education. This is a founding principle of our
country and it remains today perhaps the most important tool we have to
give all our citizens the chance to make the most of their own lives.
Recommendation: Reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act so
that federal education funds promote higher standards and accountability
for results, put qualified teachers in all classrooms, and turn around all
failing schools. Finish the job of hiring 100,000 teachers to reduce class
size. Expand afterschool and summer school help to make sure all students
reach high standards. Mentor disadvantaged youth to increase the chance
they go to college. Provide tax credits to help build or modernize 5,000
schools. Act on the findings of the newly appointed Presidential
Commission on Resource Equity, that is charged with finding ways to close
the resource equity gap between schools in poor communities and those in
more affluent ones.
III. CIVIL RIGHTS ENFORCEMENT
Despite all the progress we have made in tearing down walls of
segregation and barriers of opportunity, an old enemy lurks in the shadows.
It continues to poison our perceptions, undermine our progress and threaten
our future. Racial equality has been our nation?s constant struggle,
predating the nation?s founding by a century and a half. And race has been
our constant struggle.
We were born with a Declaration of Independence which asserted that we
are all created equal and a Constitution that enshrined slavery. We fought
a bloody civil war to abolish slavery and preserve the union, but we
remained a house divided and unequal by law for another century. We
advanced across the continent in the name of freedom, yet in doing so we
pushed Native Americans off their land, often crushing their culture, their
livelihood and their lives. We eagerly recruited laborers from Asia to
help build our fledgling economy but in a time of war, forcibly removed
more than 100,000 Japanese Americans from their homes and into internment
camps. Our Statue of Liberty welcomes poor, tired, huddled masses of
immigrants to our shores, but each new wave has felt the sting of
discrimination, and for many that discrimination has burdened their
native-born children and grandchildren. We must face these harsh
contradictions squarely as a critical first step to healing the wounds of
our past and unleashing the power and promise of our future.
After I launched the national initiative on race in San Diego in 1997,
people asked me why, in the absence of a great national crisis like Little
Rock or the Rodney King riots, should the American people focus anew on the
challenge of racial reconciliation. My answer is two-fold. First and
foremost, our work is not yet done. And our present progress and
confidence give us the best chance to finish it. We have moved out of the
epicenter of racism that rocked our nation from the time of the conquest,
slavery and Japanese internment until the great breakthroughs of the civil
rights era, but we are still experiencing the aftershocks. Though people
of color have more opportunities than ever today, we still see evidence of
unequal treatment in the litany of disparities in jobs and wealth, in
education and health, and in criminal justice, that so often still break
down along the color line.
Second, building One America is not just a fancy slogan. It is a
rallying cry in defense of our future. As we have seen so often in other
parts of the world, ancient ethnic divisions in the age of the new global
economy can rip nations apart. That has not, and will not, happen here in
America. The main reason is our fundamental faith in freedom and equality,
embodied in the words, if not always the actions, of our founders.
I believe it is also tied to our belief in a spiritual law common to
every major world religion. We hear its echo in our call for One America.
It is the law of oneness. E pluribus unum: Out of many, one. In
Christianity it is expressed as loving thy neighbor as thyself. In Islam
we are instructed to ?Do unto all men as you wish to have done to you and
reject for others what you would reject for yourself. The Talmud teaches
us, ?Should anyone turn aside the right of the stranger, it is as though he
were to turn aside the right of the most high God.? As a nation that takes
pride in both the depth and diversity of religious expression, we must
embrace racial reconciliation as a way to honor our highest spiritual
In 1998, my Advisory Board on race made this prescient observation:
?[N]ow, more than ever, racial discrimination is not only about skin color
and other physical characteristics associated with race; it is also about
other aspects of our identity, such as ethnicity, national origin,
language, accent, religion, and cultural customs.? While overt racial
prejudice has diminished, the discrimination of today is often more
camouflaged. In a sense, this makes it more dangerous: if you are denied a
job, apartment, or prompt service in a store on the basis of bigotry that
is never expressed, and even cloaked in politeness, then you have no signal
telling you to object, to fight. In order to build One America, to finish
the work that we have started, it is vitally important that all Americans
understand that discrimination ? intentional or not, obvious or camouflaged
? still exists and that each of us has the opportunity and responsibility
to help eradicate it. This is about more than enforcing laws. It is about
living up to our values and keeping our promises.
With our unprecedented strength, it is all the more intolerable that
there are still doors to opportunity that are padlocked by prejudice. That
is why I have proposed substantial new investments to strengthen civil
rights enforcement at the federal, state, and local levels. Although money
by itself will not achieve our civil rights goals, a strong enforcement
agenda depends on a sufficient level of resources. But we must act
strategically to put the federal investments where they can be the most
effective. That is why, for eight years, I have fought so hard for
additional investments in civil rights enforcement. These funds are
critical to helping the Justice Department expand investigations and
prosecutions of criminal civil rights cases. HUD needs adequate resources
to reduce housing discrimination and the Departments of Education,
Agriculture and Labor will be able to improve and expand civil rights
compliance and enforcement programs.
And as our comprehensive review of federal affirmative action programs
revealed, affirmative action is still an effective and important tool for
expanding educational and economic opportunity to all Americans.
The fact is, important gaps in civil rights law and their enforcement
remain. We need to ensure equal opportunity for all Americans, regardless
of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation. To
that end, I challenge the new Congress and Administration to pass the
Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). I believe that the simple
business of enforcing anti-discrimination laws should be a bipartisan
commitment. We should be able to agree on at least this much ? enforce the
law and promote voluntary compliance with it.
Recommendation: Redouble our efforts to end all forms of discrimination
against any group of Americans by expanding investments in civil rights
enforcement and passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Eliminate Hate Crimes
There is nothing more important to the future of this country than our
standing together against intolerance, prejudice, and violent bigotry. No
American should be subjected to violence on account of his or her race,
color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender or disability.
Americans of conscience were horrified by the vicious murder of James Byrd,
Jr. in Jasper, Texas and the cowardly torture-murder of Matthew Shepard in
Wyoming. But we must do more than shake our heads in shame?we must back up
our outrage with tough sanctions against those who perpetuate these crimes.
Hate crimes are criminal acts driven by bias against another person?s race,
religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. In 1999, the FBI
reported 7,876 incidents of such crimes. Of these, more than 60% were
based on the victim?s race or ethnicity. It is suspected that many more go
unreported. I am proud that my Administration has stood strong against
hate crimes through vigorous prosecution under the civil rights statutes,
but there is much more to do.
Under Attorney General Janet Reno?s leadership, the Department of
Justice has been deeply committed to prosecuting and preventing hate
crimes. At the first White House Conference on Hate Crimes in 1997, I
announced the centerpiece of the Attorney General?s Hate Crime Initiative ?
the formation of local working groups in each federal judicial district to
improve the prosecution and prevention of hate crimes. The Justice
Department has also developed three law enforcement training curricula on
hate crimes ? for patrol officers, investigators, and a mixed audience.
Since December 1998, more than 500 law enforcement officers have been
trained with this curricula.
We must also ensure that when hate crimes do occur, we have the law
enforcement tools necessary to identify the perpetrators swiftly and bring
them to justice. In this regard, we must pass the revised Hate Crimes
Prevention Act, now called Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act.
Currently, the law requires we prove that the defendant committed an
offense not only because of the victim?s race, color, religion, or national
origin, but also because of the victim?s participation in one of six
?federally protected activities.?
The federally protected activity requirement has impeded our efforts
to prosecute hate crimes. For example, the federal government can prosecute
a violent, racially-motivated hate crime that occurs in a public school?s
parking lot, but we may lack jurisdiction if the crime occurs in a private
yard across the street from the school. To point out another outrageous
limitation, the federal government?s ability to respond to a racially
motivated attack that occurs in front of a convenience store may depend on
whether or not the store has a video game inside.
Although the vast majority of prosecutions would continue to be
brought at the state and local level, the federal statute needs to be fixed
so that there are more tools to prosecute these heinous criminal acts. Our
federal officers must have the authority to work in concert with state and
local law enforcement agencies to end hate crimes.
In addition to removing jurisdictional barriers, the revised Hate
Crimes Prevention Act will strengthen current law by giving Federal
prosecutors the power to prosecute hate crimes committed because of the
victim?s sexual orientation, gender, or disability. The federal government
did not have the legal jurisdiction to prosecute Matthew Shepard?s
murderers under current law. Because of the lack of jurisdiction, federal
law enforcement was not able to provide significant resources to help local
law enforcement in that case. The local sheriff?s office had to furlough
law enforcement officers because of the costs of the investigation and
subsequent prosecution. With this new legislation, this would never have
happened. Matthew, a 21-year old college freshman, was beaten in the dead
of night, tied to a fence, and left to die alone. At Matthew?s funeral,
his cousin predicted that ?Matt will have made a difference in the lives of
thousands.? I want to make sure he does. Congress and the next
Administration should enact a law that provides justice for all Americans.
Let me emphasize that with the enactment of the Hate Crimes Prevention
Act, state and local law enforcement agencies will continue to take the
lead in investigating and prosecuting all types of hate crimes. For
instance, the Justice Department will continue to defer prosecution in the
first instance to state and local law enforcement officials. The revised
Hate Crimes Prevention Act will, however, strengthen our ability to work
effectively as partners with state and local law enforcement, and to serve
an important backstop function with regard to a wider range of
hate-motivated violence than federal law currently permits. Many people
say we don?t need this legislation because hate crimes are covered by other
state laws. But, as state prosecutors have pointed out repeatedly, a case
can often be better made by federal authorities, and even more often,
federal support for state agencies with limited resources is critical.
Opponents of the civil rights legislation in the 1960s often said,
?You can?t legislate morality.? It is true that a statute cannot exorcise
hate?that is a personal demon that calls for a moral cleansing. But law
does have a function in proclaiming our values and differentiating right
from wrong. In that sense, over time, law can squeeze hate out of our
public lives and eventually out of all but the most diseased hearts. The
starting point is to make violent acts of hate against our neighbors a
federal crime. And we should do it.
Recommendation: Recognize that hate crimes do damage not only to the
victims, but to the moral fiber of our nation. They are different from
other crimes and they deserve to be treated as such. The new Congress and
Administration should pass the revised Hate Crimes Prevention Act without
America has a rich and lengthy history of immigrants who have
contributed to every facet of our society. Often in our history, however,
immigrants have been scapegoats for problems plaguing America, including
crime, low wages, and rising unemployment. We must not fall into the trap
of blaming immigrants for all social problems, as some tried to do over the
last few years. It is also imperative that while we enforce our
immigration laws, we also recognize that every decision we make and every
law we pass affects thousands and thousands of individuals, most of whom
are working hard for modest wages, and their families who are all too often
separated, with all the pain and damage that result.
For example, in 1996, Congress passed legislation to reduce the
presence of criminal aliens and ensure that those who should be deported
were deported promptly and efficiently. Yet, because this legislation was
retroactive, it wreaked havoc on many families ? resulting in the
deportation of individuals for relatively minor crimes, sometimes years
after they had been punished by the criminal justice system and without due
process. Editorial pages are replete with example after example?a
19-year-old boy, adopted at birth from Brazil, deported for marijuana
possession to a country where he knows no one nor even speaks the language;
a married woman with three children who emigrated from Italy when she was
young girl, deported for fraud charges resulting from bounced checks. It
is time to restore due process and judicial discretion to ensure that
unnecessary family tragedies do not continue.
Similarly, in 1996, Congress passed and I signed landmark welfare
reform legislation. We needed to change our system of welfare but we did
not need to take punitive actions against legal immigrants that had nothing
to do with moving people from welfare to work. Over the last four years we
have made steady progress to restore benefits to these legal immigrants.
For some legal immigrants in the country before enactment of welfare
reform, we restored health care and SSI benefits and food stamps. Congress
must take the next step and restore these benefits to other needy legal
Our immigration system should be based on the principle that all
immigrants from all countries should be treated equally under our laws.
When Congress enacts legislation to help one group over another similarly
situated group, this creates inequities that must be redressed. Since
1997, my Administration has proposed legislation to eliminate disparate
treatment under our immigration laws for Salvadorans, Guatemalans,
Hondurans, Haitians and Liberians who have fled civil unrest and human
rights abuses and are currently living in the United States, working,
paying taxes and raising families. I strongly urge the new Congress to
pass the bipartisan proposal that will provide these individuals with equal
opportunity to regularize their immigration status.
Furthermore, we must balance America?s need for foreign workers with
protecting American workers. For example, last year Congress passed
legislation permitting more visas for highly skilled foreign temporary
workers to meet the needs of the growing high-tech industry. While we
support efforts to address these needs, we cannot allow a temporary
high-tech worker program to divert us from the more basic obligation to
provide training and education for American workers. Similarly, Congress
considered legislation to simplify the process for admitting additional
temporary farm workers into the country to address the needs of the
agricultural industry. Again, while we should make sure that American
industry is able to have the workers that it needs, we must not do so at
the expense of undermining workplace protections or depressing wages for
those in the toughest jobs.
Over the last eight years, working with Congress, we have dedicated
over $4 billion to enhance the ability of the Immigration and
Naturalization Service (INS) to control illegal immigration and improve its
efficiency. But it is clear that this agency needs a major management
reorganization. The new Congress and Administration should make this a
priority. First, the immigration enforcement and immigration services
functions must have separate and clear lines of authority but both must be
managed by a single senior executive. That is the only way to balance the
competing and complex needs of enforcement and immigration services.
We must also continue to balance enforcement with the need for family
unification. At our insistence, Congress reinstated 245(i) for four months
allowing families to remain together while the paperwork is processed by
the agency. I urge the new Congress to permanently reinstate this
provision to support families.
Finally, immigrants, who come here, in search of a better life, can
not only realize the limitless possibility and promise of America, but also
enrich the rest of us with their unique gifts. I believe we must do more
to help these new Americans become successful, responsible participants in
American life. To this end, Vice President Gore and I proposed the English
language/Civics Initiative. This is an innovative program to help states
and communities provide people who possess only limited English proficiency
expanded access to high-quality English-language instruction linked to
civics and life skills instruction. This is designed to help them better
understand and navigate the U.S. government system, the public education
system, the workplace, and other key institutions of American life. The
107th Congress should expand this initiative to help more immigrants become
full, productive participants in American life.
We must also do more to ensure that students with limited English
skills get the extra help they need in order to speak English comfortably
and confidently, and that they meet the same high standards expected for
all students. Congress must continue to provide the necessary funding and
resources to school districts for teaching English. This commitment must
extend to making sure teachers have the training they need to teach LEP
students. Expansion of the Immigrant Education program would help more
than a thousand school districts provide supplemental instructional
services to recent immigrant students.
Congress should also seize the opportunity to reauthorize the
Elementary and Secondary Education Act, to ensure that all schools and
districts are held accountable for helping LEP students master their
academic subjects and learn English. Finally, programs designed to help
migrant families face the particularly difficult obstacles to gaining the
education and training that will help them improve their standard of living
must be expanded.
Over time, America has raised itself up by absorbing those who have
come to our shores. There are today perhaps more people here who whose
parents were not born here than at any point in our history. And today?s
immigrants are of so many different races, ethnicities and from so many
parts of the world that they create a unique set of challenges and
opportunities. The time is now, with our great prosperity, to offer the
right kind of opportunity to our newest citizens and welcome them into the
family that is America.
Recommendation: Restore vital benefits to legal immigrants and do not
target legal immigrants unfairly; re-institute fairness and due process in
our immigration system; restructure the Immigration and Naturalization
Service (INS); continue to help immigrants learn English and the duties of
citizenship and invest in education and training.
IV. CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
There is perhaps no area today in which perceptions of fairness differ
so greatly based on race than in the administration of criminal justice.
If you are white, you most likely believe the system is on your side; if
you are a minority, you most likely feel the opposite. This is true at all
levels of justice ? from what happens on the beat to what happens when the
sentencing gavel is pounded.
The statistics are cause for concern: For example, in a recent
survey, more than 7 out of 10 blacks said they believe that blacks are
treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than whites, and more
than 4 out of 10 whites agree. Furthermore, of those crime victims who do
not report the incident to police, approximately twice as many blacks than
whites say they don?t report a crime because the police would not care or
would be inefficient, ineffective, or biased. No system that is perceived
as unfair can have the full trust of all our citizens, even if it is fair.
This lack of trust becomes a cycle, separating the community even farther
from the police. We cannot turn a blind eye to this breach of trust and
confidence at all levels of the system. We must keep working until every
citizen believes that justice is truly blind.
In the three decades before the start of the Clinton-Gore
Administration, the violent crime rate had skyrocketed by 400 percent.
Many thought that rising crime would never reverse. The soaring crime
rate took a particularly devastating toll in communities of color. The
year I took office, homicide victimization for young black men ages 18-24
years old was at its highest level on record and was over ten times higher
than the rate for white men of the same age.
Our Administration took a new approach to fighting crime with
innovative policies to help communities reduce crime and restore public
safety ? by funding 100,000 more community police for our streets;
supporting community policing strategies so police could work closely with
residents to develop solutions to local crime problems; imposing tough,
targeted penalties for the most violent offenders; pushing common sense
measures to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and children; and
providing more after school programs to keep youth supervised and out of
As a result of these and other efforts, the incidence of crime has
dropped to new lows. The homicide rate is at its lowest level in 33 years,
gun crime has declined by 40 percent, and the overall crime rate has
dropped for over 8 straight years ? the longest continuous decline on
record. Moreover, people of color have in many cases experienced the
sharpest decreases in crime victimization. For instance, since 1993, the
murder rate for African Americans has dropped 40 percent, compared to 28
percent for whites, and property crime victimization decreased 45 percent
for Hispanic households as compared to 37 percent for non-Hispanics. These
are remarkable achievements.
Despite recent and substantial decreases in crime across racial lines,
persons of color remain significantly more likely than whites to be victims
of crime, especially violent crime. Persons of color are also much more
likely to live in fear of crime. No American should have to live that
way. We must remember that in the poorest, highest crime neighborhoods in
this country, the vast majority of people get up every day, go to work,
obey the law, pay their taxes, and do the best to raise their kids. More
than anywhere else, these communities ? which are often communities of
color -- want, need, and deserve strong law enforcement to restore order,
reduce crime, and help build stronger communities.
However, these same communities often have less trust in law
enforcement ? limiting its effectiveness where it is most needed. So,
while we have attained historic reductions in crime, we must build on our
successful strategy and develop additional ways to make every community
even safer. And in doing so, we must strengthen trust and confidence law
enforcement in the criminal justice system overall.
Community Policing and ?Hot Spots?
First and foremost, we must reduce crime and restore order in
communities of color where crime and fear of crime are greatest. Every
American has the right to live in a safe community, and we should not be
able to identify high-crime neighborhoods based on the race of the
residents who live there. Community policing should serve as the
cornerstone for our efforts. We must continue to add another 50,000 more
community police to our nation?s streets and spread the philosophy of
community policing which brings local police and residents together in
developing ways to best solve and prevent local crime problems and
disorder. We should further expand this successful model to other areas of
the criminal justice system including prosecution, with new community
prosecutors working side-by-side with community police to address quality
of life issues and help prevent crime before it starts.
I challenge the Congress and the next Administration to create a crime
?hot spots? initiative ? to target more resources to communities and
neighborhoods that continue to have high crime rates or emerging crime
problems. In crime ?hot spots,? federal, state and local law enforcement
would work together to identify high-crime locations through technology
such as computer mapping. There would also be an increase in policing of
high-crime areas, especially during the hours when crime is most likely to
Recommendation: Build on the success of community policing by creating
partnerships with local prosecutors. Increase community policing in the
disadvantaged areas that need them most, with more resources, including
1,000 community prosecutors and completion of our 50,000 Community Policing
Initiative, and police officers targeted to crime ?hot spots.?
Gun Safety Legislation
We must also address the problem of guns in the wrong hands ? a
pervasive problem in many of our high-crime communities. Gun violence has
taken a high toll on minority youth; for example, of the ten children
killed each day by gun violence nearly 4 are black youth. We know that
sensible and strong gun laws can make a difference in saving lives. The
Brady Law alone has stopped over 611,000 felons, fugitives, and domestic
abusers from buying guns through background checks since I signed it into
law in 1993. The next Administration and Congress should take the next
step to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and children by passing
common sense gun legislation that closes the gun show loophole and requires
safety locks for handguns to help prevent child access to guns, and stops
the importation of large capacity ammunition clips, which can be used to
evade our assault weapons ban. I also call on more gun manufacturers to
join us in the fight to protect our children and keep guns out of the wrong
Recommendation: Pass common-sense gun safety legislation to close the gun
show loophole, require safety locks to prevent child access to guns, and
ban the importation of large capacity ammunition clips.
Another public safety area that must be addressed is the estimated
600,000 ex-offenders who are released from prison and reenter communities
each year. Many of these ex-offenders will return to communities of
color. We need to maximize opportunities to help keep released offenders
on the right track and out of trouble, able to meet their family
obligations, and equipped to lead productive lives. We should foster the
creation of reentry courts, similar to drug courts, and reentry
partnerships, to provide more community and judicial supervision, more
probation and parole oversight, drug treatment, job training, and links to
community groups such as faith-based and fatherhood organizations. Our
Administration secured $95 million in the most recent budget to get this
initiative started. I challenge the Congress and the next Administration
to continue this important effort and work with state and local governments
to meet this growing public safety challenge.
Recommendation: Expand drug testing and treatment to make sure that
ex-offenders leave the criminal justice system drug-free. Expand community
supervision and job training so they can become productive citizens who
never return to a life of crime or prison.
And finally, we must prevent young people from becoming involved in
crime and the criminal justice system in the first place. That means
giving our youth alternatives to the streets, where they are often most
at-risk for being involved in, or falling prey to gangs, drugs and crime.
We must continue to increase the number of after school programs that help
to provide adult supervision and activities for young people during the
afternoon and early evening hours when juvenile crime peaks. And we must
make sure that they have strong adult supervision, as well as role models
As we work to further reduce crime across America, we also must strive
to ensure fairness in the criminal justice system so that it has the
complete confidence of all of our nation?s citizens. To do this, we must
address important issues underlying the present racial gap in trust and
confidence in our criminal justice system, including racial profiling,
sentencing policy, and the death penalty.
Recommendation: Help young people avoid crime by giving them something to
say yes to, by dramatically expanding after-school programs and increasing
support for mentoring, afterschool programs, adult supervision, and role
We know that in order for police to be truly effective in their work,
they must have the trust and cooperation of the residents in their
community. Yet, in many communities, especially minority communities,
there remains a disturbing lack of trust in law enforcement among
residents. Among the reasons for this distrust are reports of police
misconduct such as racial profiling. The vast majority of law enforcement
officers in this nation are dedicated public servants of great courage and
high moral character who deserve the respect of citizens of all races.
However, we cannot tolerate officers who mistreat law-abiding individuals
and who bring their own racial bias to the job. Racial profiling is the
opposite of good police work where actions are based on hard facts, not
stereotypes. Simply stated, no person should be targeted by law
enforcement because of the color of his or her skin. We must stop the
morally indefensible and deeply corrosive practice of racial profiling.
While some remedies are already available, we know we must do more. We
know it is wrong. And it should be illegal, everywhere.
Recent polls show that while many individuals believe that law
enforcement engages in racial profiling, there is very little data on
traffic stops to determine where and when it is occurring. That is why I
ordered federal law enforcement agencies to begin to collect data on the
race, ethnicity and gender of individuals subject to certain stops and
searches. Federal law enforcement should make such data collection
permanent and expand it to include more sites so we can identify problem
areas and take concrete steps to eliminate racial profiling anywhere it
exists. In addition, I challenge state and local law enforcement to take
similar action to collect data. The federal government can help by
providing funding and technical assistance to help them in their efforts.
We should also provide for more police integrity training and resources to
promote local dialogue to strengthen trust between police and the residents
But I believe we should go a step further. Even with many of these
remedies already in place, we know that racial profiling continues to
occur. We must find a way to construct and pass a national law banning
racial profiling so that every citizen is assured that no police department
and no community will tolerate this terrible practice.
Recommendation: End the intolerable practice of racial profiling by
continuing efforts to document extent of problem and passing a national law
banning the practice of racial profiling.
Mandatory Minimum Sentencing
We must re-examine our national sentencing policies, focusing
particularly on mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders.
With the prison and jail population at roughly two million, it is time to
take a hard look at who we are sending to prison ? and whether our
sentencing policies make sense given current circumstances. Over the long
term, we should not be satisfied when so many Americans, especially so many
people of color, are behind bars for so long for nonviolent crimes, with so
little hope of putting their lives back together when they get out. We
must demand a system that actually works to reduce criminality and
One way to do this is to use the power of the criminal justice system
to help offenders to kick their drug habits. As we have seen, addiction
plays a key role as to why many people end up in prison to begin with:
more than two-thirds of all state prisoners report past drug use, nearly
one in five committed their crime to get money to buy drugs, and one-third
were under the influence of drugs at the time of their offense. In order
to help break this cycle of drugs and crime, we should implement a rigorous
course of drug testing and treatment for federal and state prisoners,
probationers and parolees. Offenders should be required to be drug-free
when they leave prison and stay free of drugs in order keep their freedom.
In addition, we should further spread alternatives to incarceration for
nonviolent drug offenders, such as drug courts. Drug courts, which employ
judicial supervision, escalating sanctions, and frequent drug testing and
treatment in lieu of incarceration have been shown to significantly reduce
recidivism and future drug use. There were about a dozen drug courts in
operation eight years ago; today there are more than 400.
Sentences must be firm, but they must also be fair and fit the crime.
In the 1980?s, mandatory minimum sentences were adopted to attack the
horrible problem of crack cocaine and other drugs that were ravaging our
cities. While mandatory minimums have been effective in removing hardened
criminals from the streets, they have also swept in many lower level
offenders, for whom better alternatives may exist, as discussed above.
One penalty I believe should be changed immediately is the 1986
federal law that creates a 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine
sentencing polices. This substantial disparity has led to a perception of
racial injustice and inconsistency in the federal criminal justice system.
Republican and Democratic Members of Congress alike have called for a
repeal of this inequitable policy. Congress should revise the law to
shrink the disparity to 10-to-1; specifically, the amount of powder cocaine
required to trigger a five-year mandatory sentence should be reduced from
500 to 250 grams, while the amount of crack cocaine required for the same
sentence should increase from 5 grams to 25 grams. This difference would
continue to reflect the greater addictive power of crack cocaine, the
greater violence associated with crack cocaine trafficking, and the
importance of targeting mid- and higher level traffickers instead of low
level drug offenders.
At the same time, I encourage states with mandatory minimum drug
sentences to adopt a ?safety valve? similar to the provision I signed into
law in the 1994 Crime Act. The federal ?safety valve? allows non-violent
drug offenders with no more than a minor criminal record to be exempt from
the federal mandatory minimum sentences.
Recommendation: Re-examine federal sentencing guidelines, particularly
mandatory minimums for non-violent offenders. Pass legislation to shrink
the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing from the current
100-to-1 to 10-to-1.
The Death Penalty
Finally, I believe we bear a special obligation to do everything we
can to ensure that the death penalty is administered fairly. Justice
Department studies have found that minorities are over-represented as both
victims and defendants in both the federal and state death penalty systems.
While this does not necessarily show that these systems are fundamentally
broken or that they discriminate, this information raises profoundly
disturbing questions. Congress can take an important step forward by
passing legislation like that introduced by Senator Leahy, which provides
greater access to post-conviction DNA testing as well as increased access
to competent counsel for defendants in capital cases. These are important
steps toward guaranteeing a system that is fair and just in its results and
in its process ? so we are absolutely sure the system does not punish the
innocent and that the innocent are not convicted in the first place.
Recommendation: Pass and sign legislation to provide greater access to
post-conviction DNA testing and increased access to competent counsel for
defendants in capital cases.
V. ELIMINATING RACIAL AND ETHNIC HEALTH DISPARITIES
Nowhere are the divisions of race and ethnicity more sharply drawn
than in the health of our people. Despite notable progress in the overall
health of the nation, there are continuing disparities in the burden of
illness and death experienced by African Americans, Hispanics, American
Indians and Alaska Natives, and Pacific Islanders, compared to the U.S.
population as a whole. African Americans are 40 percent more likely to die
from heart disease than whites. Hispanic Americans have two to three times
the rate of stomach cancer. Native Americans have the highest risk for
diabetes of any population in the country -- three times the rate of
whites. Asian Americans are as much as five times more likely to die from
liver cancer associated with hepatitis. We do not know all the reasons
for these disturbing gaps. But we do know that overall these groups are
less likely to be immunized against disease, less likely to be routinely
tested for cancer, and less likely to get regular checkups. No matter what
the reason, racial and ethnic disparities in health are unacceptable in a
country that values equality and equal opportunity for all. Access to the
best health care America has to offer is a new civil right for the 21st
That is why we have set a national goal to eliminate racial and ethnic
health disparities in six key areas by the year 2010: infant mortality;
diabetes; cancer; heart disease; HIV/AIDS; and immunizations. To reach
this goal, my Administration launched a major preventive health outreach
campaign focusing on diseases disproportionately affecting racial and
ethnic minorities. We also initiated a public-private collaboration to
address racial and ethnic health disparities; and secured approximately $40
million in 2000 and 2001 for programs to research the causes and devise
solutions for these disparities.
In 1999, the Administration launched a new initiative to address
HIV/AIDS in minority communities, which received $167 million in funds this
year. Finally, in 2001, NIH will establish the Center for Research on
Minority Health and Health Disparities, which will coordinate the over $1
billion NIH invests annually in minority health and health disparities
America has the best health care system in the world. But we can?t
take full pride in it until every American has an equal chance to benefit
from its ever-expanding potential. That is why achieving our goal of
eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in health by the year 2010 must
be a priority of the new Congress and new Administration.
Recommendation: Eliminate key racial and ethnic disparities in health by
2010, by expanding investment in research into such disparities, in
HIV/AIDS prevention, and in the treatment of diseases that
disproportionately harm people of color.
VI. VOTING REFORM
If ever there was a doubt about the importance of exercising the most
fundamental right of citizenship, it was clearly answered by the first
presidential election of the 21st century. No American will ever again be
able to seriously say, ?My vote doesn?t count.? That election also
revealed serious flaws in the mechanics of voting, and brought up
disturbing allegations of voter intimidation that we thought were relics of
the past. Too many people felt that the votes they cast were not counted
and some felt that there were organized efforts to keep them from the
polls. Both of these allegations must be fully investigated. But,
whatever the outcome, we can and must take aggressive steps to improve
voter turnout, and modernize and restore confidence in our voting system.
While voting is the sacred right and responsibility of every American,
it carries even greater weight for those who have fought so long and hard
for civil rights and equal justice in America. In many ways the struggle
for civil rights and racial progress in America is analogous to the
struggle for voting rights. And this struggle, too, has not been all black
The Fifteenth Amendment declared ?the right of citizens of the United
States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by
any State on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.?
But new barriers, like poll taxes and literacy tests, were erected to
prevent blacks and poor whites from casting their ballots. It was not
until that historic confrontation on Selma?s Edmund Pettus Bridge and the
monumental Selma to Montgomery March that the Voting Rights Act of 1965,
outlawing these racist impediments, was passed. Full voting rights for
women were not secured until the passage of the 19th amendment in 1919. It
wasn?t until 1924, with the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act, that
Native Americans won the right to vote. It took until 1952 for the
Walter-McCarran Act to extend full citizenship and voting rights to Asian
immigrants. And only after the elimination of English-only elections
through the passage of the Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1975, did the
final barriers to Hispanic voting rights fall.
Consider the fact that while our Declaration of Independence and
Constitution proclaimed liberty and justice for all, originally this only
applied to property-owning white males. Barbara Jordan once put it in
stark terms, when she said of the Preamble to the Constitution, ?We the
People. It is a very eloquent beginning. But when the document was
completed on the 17th of September in 1787, I was not included in that We
the People.? America?s on-going efforts to right those wrongs is marked by
the blood, sweat and tears of scores of voting rights warriors ? from
Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Martin
Luther King, Willie Velasquez and Viola Liuzzo. Ms. Liuzzo was one of a
number of white freedom riders who lost their lives at the hands of bigots
while working with blacks in the south for equal voting rights in the
The right to vote is not only a sacred testament to the struggles of
the past. It is an indispensable weapon in our current arsenal of efforts
to empower those who have traditionally been left out, particularly people
of color. So much progress?from the passage of civil rights laws to the
increase in the numbers of minorities holding elected office?is the direct
result of citizens exercising their right to vote. And so many of the
needed changes in public policy, including those I have outlined in this
Message to Congress, require active support by voters. Otherwise little
will change. But, today, too many of us take our right to vote for
granted. In recent presidential elections in France, for example, nearly
85 percent of the eligible voters went to the polls on election day. In
America, there aren?t more than two states that ever have an 80 percent
turnout, even during a presidential election when interest runs very high.
So, we must do more to ensure that more people vote and that every
vote is counted. In an effort to restore confidence in our democracy, I
recommend that the next President appoint a nonpartisan Presidential
Commission on Electoral Reform. The Commission should be headed by
distinguished citizens who can put country ahead of party, such as former
Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. The Commission should gather the
facts and determine the causes of voting disparities in every state,
including disparities of race, class, ethnicity, and geography. The
Commission should make recommendations to Congress about how to achieve a
fair, inclusive, and uniform system of voting in national elections --
including how to modernize voting technologies, establish uniform voting
standards, prevent voter suppression and intimidation, and increase voter
I believe such a Commission should also examine two other issues that
haven't received as much attention, but could go a long way toward ensuring
every American citizen the right to vote and the chance to exercise that
right. First, we should declare election day a national holiday so that no
one has to choose between their responsibilities at work and their
responsibilities as a citizen. In other countries that do this, voter
participation dwarfs ours, and the most fundamental act of democracy gets
the attention it deserves. Second, we should give back the right to vote
to those who have repaid their debt to society. Over the next decade,
millions of Americans in the criminal justice system will serve out their
sentences and re-enter society. These Americans are disproportionately
poor and minority. We should be doing everything we can to make sure that
they re-enter society as responsible citizens. That means making sure that
those who leave the criminal justice system leave it drug-free, and get the
training they need to hold down a job and do right by their communities and
their families. But if we want them to live right and do right, we should
give them the chance to earn back their rights -- above all, the right to
Recommendation: Appoint a non-partisan Presidential Commission on election
reform to ensure a fair, inclusive and uniform system of voting standards,
prevent voter suppression and intimidation and increase voter
participation. Declare election day a national holiday. Give ex-offenders
who have repaid their debt to society the chance to earn back the right to
VII. CIVIC RESPONSIBILITY: BUILDING ONE AMERICA IS THE WORK OF EVERY
When violence and strife exploded in Los Angeles following the Rodney
King verdict, countless residents and community leaders responded with
inspiring efforts to build bridges that would not only heal wounds but
create opportunity. When more than 190 black churches, white churches,
synagogues, and mosques were burned or desecrated during 1995-1996, we
witnessed an awe-inspiring outpouring of concern and assistance across all
lines of race and faith and party. When Jasper, Texas, was shaken to its
core by a hideous hate crime, residents and leaders worked tirelessly to
hold together, and in doing so, taught us all that some evils can be
conquered with understanding. What all these examples prove is that when
communities are faced with a crisis, our better angels soar to the
challenge. In those moments, America ceases to be a nation of people
divided into categories of color. America at its best is people of all
colors united for the common good.
As in so many other areas, racial reconciliation and building
opportunity simply won?t happen unless there is committed engagement by
people in communities and institutions throughout the nation. But in the
absence of a crisis, we may be tempted to leave this work to national
leaders, such as politicians, clergy, business executives or the heads of
nonprofit organizations. Such leaders can perhaps help set a tone, point
out examples, offer support, and provide critical seed resources. But it
takes all of us working together to prevent the kind of devastating crisis
that pulls us together only after much pain and suffering. At the end of
the day, we will make the most fundamental kind of progress when we work
with our neighbors for change.
To help spur this work, I hope that in the coming years leaders of
goodwill in individual communities will rededicate themselves to working
together across racial and ethnic lines in community partnerships designed
to help us build a more perfect union. In many areas, there may already be
a vesting place, such as an active ecumenical council of faith leaders, or
a human rights commission with broad-based public legitimacy. In other
places, convening a group of leaders might require a special initiative by
a mayor, a tribal leader, a newspaper publisher, an archbishop, a leading
employer or the board of a civic organization.
Much of that work is already underway across America. And I am proud
that my White House Office on One America is doing its part. In February,
1999, I launched the first-ever White House office specifically charged
with keeping the nation focused on closing opportunity gaps and fostering
racial reconciliation. Since its inception, the office has been
instrumental in several efforts including the formation of ?Lawyers for One
America? ? a group of attorneys who have committed to change the racial
justice landscape through greater diversity within the legal profession and
increased pro bono service.
The One America Office also convened corporate leaders at the White
House, who pledged a renewed commitment to diversity in their workplaces
and stronger efforts to close opportunity gaps. And the One America Office
brought a broad cross-section of religious leaders to the White House to
pledge that the faith community would focus more of its efforts on
expanding diversity, ending racism and promoting racial reconciliation.
The White House Office on One America has helped focus and coordinate
efforts throughout my Administration to build One America. It is my
sincere hope that the next Administration will maintain this office and its
Our national service program, Americorps, has also played an important
role, bringing together young people of all races and walks of life to work
in all kinds of communities with all kinds of people. Since 1994, 150,000
young people have served as Americorps volunteers, meeting community
challenges and moving us closer to One America. Last year, 49 of the
nation?s 50 governors ? including President-elect Bush ? urged Congress to
reauthorize the National and Community Service and Trust Act. I hope
Congress will answer their call, and keep Americorps members on the job.
Building One America requires a new kind of leadership. Instead of
looking outward for signs of hope, we must first look in the mirror and
know that change is our responsibility. Rooted in the heart, that wisdom
has the power to connect us in ways that nourish our dreams for a future
that is better than our past. Whether you are able to give guidance to a
single child or lead a national movement for justice, it all begins with a
personal commitment to racial reconciliation. As Dr. King once said, ?No
social movement rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. Every step toward
the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the
tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.?
Recommendation: Maintain the White House Office on One America, and
reauthorize the National and Community Service Trust Act. Every American
should become engaged in the work of expanding opportunity for all and
building One America.
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