Five Things You Can Do to Address Systemic Racism in Oregon

For an Oregon where all women and girls thrive, all women and girls need to have equitable access to the opportunities it takes to thrive. But right now, many of Oregon’s women and girls of color do not. Because of the way race and gender intersect, women and girls of color face disproportionate barriers to success.

While it will take public policies to tackle the systemic nature of the gender and racial inequities found in Count Her In, each one of us can also make a difference. Watch our “Eight That Can’t Wait:” Systemic Racism discussion, and check out the resources below.

Five Things You Can Do to Address Systemic Racism in Oregon:

  1. Deepen your understanding. If you identify as white, educate yourself on what racism is, and how it has shaped and continues to shape our country, state, and communities. If you read one thing, start with Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People about Racism, by Robin DiAngelo. Resources:
  2. Diversify your newsfeed. Seek out the perspectives of people of color, particularly women of color. Simply following (click “Follow” rather than “Add friend”) these voices on Facebook (or Twitter) will bring them into your newsfeed. Resources:
  3. Listen to people of color. Organizations led by people of color have been advocating for racial justice for a long time. Look to them for guidance on how to best address systemic racism. Sign up for the newsletters of these organizations, and follow them on social media. Resources:
  4. Center voices of color. Amplify the voices of people of color in meetings. Ask your HR department about your company’s diversity and inclusion policies, and request an all-staff anti-racism workshop. Don’t put together or participate in all-white panels. Make sure representatives from communities of color are invited to the decision-making table, listened to, amplified, and have their needs met. Ask leadership how decisions will affect women and girls of color. Resources:
  5. Interrupt racism: hold yourself and others accountable. Commit to opposing racism in your personal and professional life, every day. This means examining and interrupting your own racist thoughts and actions. This means holding others accountable at home, at work, at school, in media, in your community, and in elected office. This means using your “power and privilege responsibly in the service of justice.” We encourage white people to come from a place of empathy and compassion when addressing racism. Resources:
Thank you to our wonderful panelists for sharing their expertise and powerful personal experiences with us.

Panelists (left to right):

 The Oregon Women’s Foundation hosted a conversation on systemic racism in Oregon earlier in February, 2017.  It was part of its “Eight that Can’t Wait” discussion series that arose out of its 2016 “Count Her In” Report on the status of women in Oregon

The wall is the least aggressive part of Trump’s executive actions on immigration

The biggest single-day changes to immigration policy in recent memory.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed a pair of executive orders that constitute the biggest change to federal immigration policy in a single day in recent memory.

Trump signed an order that directs the Department of Homeland Security to begin construction on a wall between the US and Mexico — while cracking down on people who cross the border now, many of whom are children and families seeking asylum from Central America. A second order, also signed Wednesday, began to loosen restrictions on whom immigration agents can apprehend and deport within the United States — allowing immigration agents to adopt a broader definition of “criminal” to deport more people faster.

It has been widely reported that he will sign executive orders later this week that would pause all refugee admissions to the US for several months, and block all arrivals from seven majority-Muslim countries.

Trump’s actions today answer one question that has circled around him since the earliest days of his campaign: Should we take him literally? His early executive orders, especially these on immigration, suggest that Trump is serious about changing US policy to fulfill the strident immigration commitments at the center of his policy agenda. Already, he has laid out a policy agenda that is aggressive — even hostile — toward many unauthorized immigrants within the US, both those who have crossed the border seeking asylum and those who have lived here for years.

Trump told DHS to start building a wall, and use existing money to pay for it

During his presidential campaign, Trump promised that the US would build a wall on its border with Mexico and Mexico would pay for it.

He’s still working on the second part, but he’s moving ahead on the first. The executive order he signed Wednesday directed the Department of Homeland Security to “identify and, to the extent permitted by law, allocate all Federal funds” that could be used to build the wall.

Border patrol agent on ATVJohn Moore/Getty Images

President Trump has the authority to do this — in fact, he didn’t need to use a formal executive order to do it. (He could have just sent a memo.) The executive branch has the ability to move funds around within existing congressional appropriations; as long as the president isn’t asking an executive branch agency for more than Congress has allocated for a particular budget line, he can send Congress a letter notifying them of the change in plans.

Under a law passed in 2006 called the Secure Fence Act, the US government is responsible for maintaining a physical barrier along at least 650 miles of the US/Mexico border. The original law required a double-layer fence, but Congress later amended it to let the Department of Homeland Security determine what kind of barrier was necessary in any given location.

Currently, most of those 650 miles are covered by a single-layer fence. Trump’s instruction to start on a wall is a use of the Secure Fence Act in the other direction — to push for a thicker barrier than Congress originally ordered.

This is just the start. No one expects DHS Secretary John Kelly to find enough money to complete a wall across the whole US-Mexico border. President Trump is expected to ask Congress to appropriate additional funds for the wall when they pass a DHS funding bill in May (something congressional Democrats are likely to resist). The executive order is more of a down payment — or a demonstration to Congress that the Trump administration is dead serious about the wall, and they should be too.

The executive order attempts to clear away some of the other obstacles associated with building a massive structure across hundreds of miles of border; for example, it allows federal agents to access border land for security reasons, which could make it harder to sue the Trump administration for violating environmental regulations by building on protected land.

But Trump can’t clear away all the obstacles with an executive order. He’ll still have to deal with Mexico.

A wall on the US/Mexico border would be a symbolic slap in the face to Mexico, and would likely disrupt the goods and people that legally flow across the border every day. (To stop at least some of the wall from being constructed, the Mexican government could leverage a 1970 treaty that prevents the US from building anything that would disrupt the flow of the rivers that define the border along part of Texas.)

Then there’s the question of how Trump could make Mexico pay for it: He has insisted he’ll force Mexico to reimburse the US for the cost of construction, and indicated that he could use taxes and fees on Mexicans and Mexican Americans (such as a tax on remittances) to pressure Mexico to pony up the funds.

The Mexican government is extremely unpopular right now, and very much needs a good relationship with the US to help stabilize its flailing currency. The newly appointed foreign minister, Luis Videgaray, was named partly because of his good relationship with Trump and his advisers. (Videgaray helped arrange Trump’s visit to Mexico as a candidate last year.)

But Trump needs Mexico too. The purpose of the executive order is to reduce the number of people entering the US who don’t already have papers — but the only way the US has found to seriously drive down the number of Central American asylum seekers is for Mexico to help in apprehending them en route (and sometimes granting them asylum in Mexico).

family border patrol

The executive order requires DHS to detail all aid it’s giving to Mexico. That could be a forerunner to presenting Mexico with a bill for the wall. But if DHS interprets the executive order to mean it should send as little money as possible to Mexico — even to support efforts to keep Central Americans from coming to the US — that might undermine other Trump goals.

Videgaray is coming to Washington on Wednesday to help plan for a meeting between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto later in January. He’ll arrive to news that President Trump has ordered construction to start on the wall his country very much does not want to see built.

Everyone caught crossing the border — including families seeking asylum — will be detained

As a candidate, Trump (like many immigration hawks before him) promised to end “catch and release” of immigrants caught by Border Patrol agents. In a particularly dramatic fashion, he’s made good on his word. This afternoon, he signed an executive order requiring Customs and Border Protection to detain every unauthorized immigrant they catch crossing the border.

Prior to Trump’s order, CBP had several options once they caught an immigrant on the border without papers. They could deport her immediately — if she meets certain criteria, like having been deported before. They could release her if they trust she’ll show up to her asylum interview or court date (this makes sense for asylum seekers, who have every reason to do what’s required to actually get asylum). They could use an ankle bracelet or other monitoring system to keep track of her before her court date. Or they could keep her in detention.

President Trump just eliminated all but the first and last options. And he added another option: Immigrants can be returned to Mexico even while they’re waiting for an immigration court to process their case.

The order might seem reasonable; after all, the only way to make 100 percent sure an immigrant doesn’t abscond into the US without papers is to keep her in custody. But in practice, it’s hugely problematic because of who’s coming over the border right now.

According to Customs and Border Protection, nearly half of all unauthorized immigrants apprehended crossing the border in the fall of 2016 (from October to December) were either unaccompanied minors or families traveling together. In most cases, these children and families came from Central America; in many cases, they were seeking asylum from violence there.

Immigrants in detention have a much harder time getting a fair hearing, a lawyer, or time to make their case. This means the government is more likely to send a person who should have qualified for asylum back to her home country, putting her in mortal danger. (It’s a violation of international law for countries to return people to places where they’re unsafe.)

immigrant detention centerJohn Moore/Getty Images

Meanwhile, the government isn’t allowed to keep children in immigration detention indefinitely. The Obama administration’s attempts to expand family detention after the border crisis of 2014 ran into difficulties in state and federal court; hundreds of families got released at once in December, after a Texas judge found that the government was violating state law. The executive order instructs DHS to detain people “to the extent permitted by law” — in the case of children and families, that extent isn’t that great.

It’s also not clear where the federal government is going to put all the people being detained. Customs and Border Protection has already had to create “tent cities” in Texas to accommodate new arrivals, and that’s when it had options in addition to detaining them. Furthermore, detaining immigrants isn’t CBP’s job; within 72 hours, they’re supposed to send them elsewhere. Those who get detained are sent to detention centers run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But ICE doesn’t have the detention capacity to take on tens of thousands more immigrants, and it’s going to take time — and the approval of Congress — to build up that capacity.

Trump is expanding the definition of what makes an immigrant a “criminal” and therefore a priority for deportation

By the end of the Obama administration, unauthorized immigrants living in the US who hadn’t been convicted of crimes were at pretty low risk of being deported. But that was a fairly recent development. In the last years of George W. Bush’s presidency, and the first several years of Obama’s, aggressive enforcement in the interior of the US — from high-profile workplace raids under Bush to widespread cooperation with local law enforcement under Obama — led to the deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants living in the United States each year, many of them people who hadn’t committed a crime while living here.

Trump and his administration have made two promises: They’re going to go after criminals first, and they’re going to restore “power and responsibility” to immigration agents to determine which immigrants to deport. These two promises are in conflict: The Obama administration’s efforts to target convicted criminals were exactly what led immigration agents to feel that they weren’t being allowed to do their jobs.

The executive order resolves the conflict. It makes it easier for immigration agents to consider unauthorized immigrants as criminals — and easier to deport them.

ICE raid arrest

For one thing, the Trump administration is laying the groundwork to keep raising awareness of unauthorized immigrants who commit crimes as a way to advocate for harsher enforcement: The executive order creates an office to advocate for victims of crimes committed by unauthorized immigrants. But it goes way beyond symbolism.

Instead of focusing on deporting convicted criminals, the executive order tells ICE agents to focus on immigrants who’ve been convicted, charged, or “have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.” Those “offenses” include immigration crimes (illegal entry and reentry are both criminal offenses) and things that are part and parcel of living in the US as an unauthorized immigrant, like driving without a license. (Indeed, the order prioritizes people who have engaged in “fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter,” which could apply to anyone who applies for a job and pays taxes under a fake Social Security number.) Furthermore, the executive order tells immigration agents to prioritize anyone they feel is a “risk to public safety or national security” even if they haven’t done any of those things — which is to say, anyone immigration agents want to deport.

And ICE will have more resources to carry this out. The executive order triples the number of agents in ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations office. Those agents will be able to resume use of the tool that made it easiest for them to pick up immigrants involved in the criminal justice system. Trump is resurrecting the Obama-era Secure Communities program, which automatically checked immigration databases to identify people checked into local jails, then allowed ICE agents to ask local officials to hand over any immigrant they wanted to deport.

Secure Communities was initially touted by the Obama administration as a way to identify and deport “criminal aliens,” but as it expanded it became clear that it was also being used to deport immigrants who hadn’t done anything more serious than commit a traffic offense (or hadn’t done anything at all). So the Obama administration replaced Secure Communities with the Priority Enforcement Program in 2014, which limited when ICE agents got notified about an immigrant in a jail and when they could request to take him into custody.

Trump’s decision to go back to the broader Secure Communities program does two things. It gives ICE agents a broader pool of immigrants to draw from for potential detention and deportation. And it signals that any immigrant caught up in the criminal justice system — whether or not they’re ultimately convicted of a crime — will be considered a “criminal” by this administration. If President Trump is going to find and deport 2 to 3 million criminal unauthorized immigrants, when nowhere near that number are actually convicted criminals, this is how he’d do it.

Sanctuary cities aren’t getting defunded just yet

Bill de Blasio sneering
Bill de Blasio.
Andy Katz via Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty

One of the Trump administration’s most celebrated promises — defunding “sanctuary cities” that limit local cooperation with the federal government — makes an appearance in the executive order. But it doesn’t actually defund anything just yet. Instead, it tells the secretary of homeland security and the attorney general to make sure that no jurisdiction getting federal grants is getting in the way of law enforcement, and lets the attorney general pursue enforcement actions against jurisdictions that do.

There’s a reason for the relative timidity: It’s unconstitutional for the federal government to force local governments to enforce federal law. The federal government can’t use grants to coerce state and local governments into doing whatever the president wants. This is why the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion was struck down: It tried to force states to expand Medicaid eligibility as a condition to getting federal Medicaid funds. So the executive action leaves it up to the attorney general and DHS to figure out how it can defund sanctuary cities without being coercive.

While there’s no bright line for when a condition counts as coercive, there are some standards. The condition has to be relevant to the purpose of the grant. And it’s more likely to be found unconstitutional if it puts new conditions on existing funds.

The Trump administration might try to get around these obstacles by claiming that it’s illegal for cities in violation of federal law to get federal grants. But to do that, it will have to limit defunding to cities that actively prevent information from getting shared with the federal government — not just cities that don’t always notify federal immigration agents whenever police pick up an unauthorized immigrant.

Watch: The racist history of US immigration policy

http://www.vox.com/2017/1/25/14378474/trump-immigration-order-wall-deport-sanctuary

Updated by Jan 25, 2017, 3:40pm EST

Feminism Lost. Now What?

“It’s amazing to me the lightning speed
at which these issues have receded. The
story is the total omission of women.”

As We Enter 2017 and a New Political Order, Let’s Remember These Words

first-they-came

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

—Martin Niemoller

SPEAK OUT!  SPEAK OUT!  SPEAK OUT!  We ALL must SPEAK OUT!

 

A new election: marching with Martin Luther King Jr.

By Irene Rasmussen, Newport, Oregon

Every few generations, people have a chance to truly define themselves by supporting a great and noble cause.

I am going on 50, yet I have never, before now, felt myself to be in that position. Even my husband, almost 60, was too young to march in the Civil Rights movement with Martin Luther King Jr.. This was a defining moment in American life, a rare chance to stand up and say clearly, for all the world and history to see, what you were, who you were and what kind of country you stood for. It is an honor that doesn’t come around every day.     

When this election began, it seemed that that kind of moment was far away. I was lukewarm about Hillary, and I found Trump ridiculous: a panderer who boasted about “not being a politician” only as an excuse to act twice as badly as a regular politician because, as his aides now say, he doesn’t have that much experience.   

The prospect of filling out my ballot for Hillary didn’t excite me. Trump appalled me. Hillary   has flaws, but she is simply better than Trump on every issue.    Recently, with the shakeup of Trump’s staff and the emergence of new “leaders” in his miserably struggling campaign, this election has changed. It has become a defining moment in U.S. history. It has become that rare chance where the present generation has an opportunity to make its mark, where every eligible voter can cast a basic and crucial vote against bigotry, racism and hatred, and to reaffirm what is best about America.   

What changed? It’s true that from the start, there was a racial and nationalist taint to the Trump campaign. Still, many people, perhaps even Trump supporters themselves, thought he wasn’t really racist. He got   away with his comments about Mexican rapists, American judges with Mexican names, the “Second Amendment people” and how they could reverse Supreme Court nominations. And it got worse.   

Pundits of all stripes expected   a reset, a pivot, or a “new Trump” to emerge in what Mitt Romney called an “Etch-A-Sketch moment.” In the last weeks, we finally found there is no new Trump. He is simply a racist to the core. The choice of Steve Bannon as the new CEO of a makeover Trump campaign sealed the deal.   

Bannon is a wife-abusing white supremacist who ran the “Breitbart” news site, a site that feeds the fears of the ultra-nationalist, conspiracy theory right. In a recent speech, Hillary finally confronted this threat to democracy head on. She warned that this rightwing, hate mongering clique had basically taken control of the old Republican Party. Her point was proved the next day when a number of white supremacist groups tweeted that   they had, indeed, scored a great triumph — in fact were inches from seizing the reins of power.

   Bannon’s “Breitbart” has published articles under headlines like, “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy,” “Would You Rather   Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer?” and “Hoist It High and Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage.”   

So this is no longer a choice between a boring policy wonk and a fast-talking billionaire real estate mogul. It is a choice between the legacy of the entire Civil Rights movement — over 50 years of work to eradicate racism in America versus a dangerously ignorant, fact challenged, hate-filled alternative that threatens almost every aspect of civil, religious, and human rights in our nation.   

A vote for Hillary is no longer a second best choice, it is a vote to stand with Martin Luther King Jr. It is a vote you can explain with pride to your children and grandchildren. I will cast that vote proudly.    And a vote for Trump is a vote to take America into the abyss, a vote whose stain you will likely never wash away and never be able to justify.

Newport News Times “Viewpoint”, Friday, September 9, 2016, Page A10

Race and Beyond: Why Black Women’s Equal Pay Day Matters

By Gabrielle Bozarth and Naomi Kellogg/Monday, August 22, 2016

black women

A Georgia Department of Labor services specialist helps a woman with a job search at an unemployment office in Atlanta on March 3, 2016.

In honor of Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, regular Race and Beyond columnist Sam Fulwood III invited interns Gabrielle Bozarth and Naomi Kellogg to reflect on the intersecting barriers of gender, race, and age in the U.S. workforce.

Tomorrow marks Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, which observes the amount of time it takes the average black woman to earn the same pay that the average white man earns in one calendar year. Because black women earn 60 percent of what their white male counterparts do—a rate much lower than the 79 percent national pay gap for all women—it takes approximately eight additional months for them to reach pay parity with white men. Years of advocacy and progress have resulted in black women working across all fields and reaching high levels of academic achievement, with more than half of all black women between the ages of 18 and 24 enrolled in college. While black women have made notable professional contributions and become the most educated group in the nation, these advancements have not shown a considerable effect on wage disparities.

Black women’s pay disparity is especially concerning for Millennials—the nation’s most diverse generation ever—who now make up the majority of workers. In May 2015, Millennials surpassed Generation Xers as the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, and in April 2016, Millennials surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest living generation. As the youngest Millennials get older, graduate college, and begin looking for jobs, many are faced with two specific barriers: their race and gender. As young black women of the Millennial generation, we shoulder both the struggles and the hopes of our mothers and grandmothers: to be more, build more, and catapult our families to new heights—and new tax brackets. In this legacy, wage equality is our principle concern.

In the current U.S. economy, securing a first job out of college can be difficult, especially for black Americans. Regardless of educational achievement, black American unemployment rates are similar to or higher than those of less-educated white Americans. For example, the unemployment rate for black Americans with bachelor’s degrees or higher is nearly double that of their white counterparts: 4.1 percent and 2.4 percent, respectively.

Even if we ace the interview and land the job, as black women, we are likely to be underpaid. This is a frightening prospect as we wrap up our undergraduate college careers and look to build a life and a future of financial success. Men make more than women in all but five occupations, and even in those occupations, women of color are paid the lowest on average.

Black women in the workplace face a number of struggles: from stereotypes about women’s roles and harsh critiques of women’s leadership to lack of informational and mentoring networks in many fields. Black women experience unique obstacles that are a result of our compounded identities. Income inequality presents many barriers, as black women may also have to work multiple jobs or longer hours and do not have the time to network and develop the relationships with their coworkers and superiors that are key to career advancement.

Black women who are pregnant face even greater barriers to success in the workplace. While many pregnant women are able to work through pregnancy without difficulty, some women need temporary job modifications in order to continue working safely. A 2008 report noted that women of color and immigrant women are disproportionately likely to work in physically demanding and low-wage jobs and thus are highly likely to need accommodations during pregnancy—similar to those defined in, but not enforced by, the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employers often refuse to make these adjustments for pregnant women, forcing young black women, like us, to make an impossible choice between keeping our jobs and advancing our careers or protecting our health. Our struggle as young black Millennial women is multifaceted, and making 60 cents to the dollar of our white male counterparts further exacerbates these issues.

The unfortunate reality of the wage gap is that black women are set up to fail; the 40 cents we miss out on accumulates and limits us from fully participating in the U.S. economy. This money could help us pay off student loan debt, buy our first home, or purchase a car. It could help us pay for quality care for our children or put healthy food on the table. On average, black women earn $19,399 less than white men every year, and in 2013 dollars, this would be enough to pay for: feeding a household of four for two years with more than $4,000 to spare, the median cost of rent and utilities for one year, full-time child care for a four-year-old for two years, student loan payments for four years, or more than 300 tanks of gas with $1,000 to spare.

But earning less does not just affect our present, it affects our future. Being underpaid for equal work contributes to an increasing wealth gap and inheritance gap, infringing on prospects of upward mobility for future generations. Black women head 68 percent of black households, and black families have 13 times less wealth than white families, holding only $11,000 in comparison to the $141,900 in wealth white families possess. A lack of wealth and savings also means black families have less to pass down to their children, widening the inheritance gap.

Lack of inheritance coupled with lower earnings for equal work inherently limit the upward social mobility of black women and their children. Half of black children who are born poor remain poor, and 70 percent of black children born in middle-class families end up worse off than their parents.

Under current public policy, total wage equality for all women will not be reached in the United States until 2059; this means that in some states, our grandchildren may be the first to earn an equitable wage at the start of their careers. This inequality is not only of concern for us and our families but also for the nation’s future. Given the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court ruling and globalization of markets, money has become inextricably tied to power.

As we end our undergraduate careers and begin to enter the workforce, it is troubling to note that our starting salaries may be too low, our upward mobility too slow, our purchasing power too weak, and our investments too small to become this nation’s leaders. Economic repression of black women is a strategy for maintaining the status quo—and so far, it is working.

Gabrielle Bozarth is a rising senior at Dartmouth College, studying government and women, gender, and sexuality studies. Naomi Kellogg is a rising junior at Indiana University, studying nonprofit management and education policy. Both served as Progress 2050 interns at the Center for American Progress during the summer of 2016.

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Liz Bartolomeo (poverty, health care)
202.481.8151 or lbartolomeo@americanprogress.org

Print: Tom Caiazza (foreign policy, energy and environment, LGBT issues, gun-violence prevention)
202.481.7141 or tcaiazza@americanprogress.org

Print: Allison Preiss (economy, education)
202.478.6331 or apreiss@americanprogress.org

Print: Tanya Arditi (immigration, Progress 2050, race issues, demographics, criminal justice, Legal Progress)
202.741.6258 or tarditi@americanprogress.org

Print: Chelsea Kiene (women’s issues, TalkPoverty.org, faith)
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org

Print: Beatriz Lopez (Center for American Progress Action Fund)
202.741.6255 or blopez@americanprogress.org

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Rafael Medina
202.478.5313 or rjmedina@americanprogress.org

TV: Rachel Rosen
202.483.2675 or rrosen@americanprogress.org

Radio: Sally Tucker
202.481.8103 or sstucker@americanprogress.org

https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/news/2016/08/22/142884/why-black-womens-equal-pay-day-matters/

 

Sentences Full of Errors

Holder

Inmates going to a Sunday morning service at the Jester State Prison Farm, near Richmond, Tex. Credit Charles Ommanney/Contact Press Images

Washington — As a college student in Virginia, Corey Jacobs started selling drugs with the help of a group of friends to make some extra money. A Bronx native, Mr. Jacobs was no kingpin, and no aspect of their drug conspiracy involved violence. Now age 46, Mr. Jacobs has served 16 years of a sentence of life without parole in the federal system.

 No question, Corey Jacobs should have gone to prison for his felony. But does he deserve to die there?

His sentencing judge does not think so. Judge Henry Coke Morgan Jr. wrote in a letter supporting clemency for Mr. Jacobs that had the law not mandated a life sentence, he would not have imposed one for a first felony conviction.

Sadly, Mr. Jacobs is no anomaly. There are thousands like him serving sentences in our federal and state systems that are disproportionate to their crimes. The financial cost of our current incarceration policy is straining government budgets; the human and community costs are incalculable.

 Today, a rare bipartisan consensus in favor of changing drug-sentencing laws presents an opportunity to improve the fairness and efficiency of America’s criminal justice system. But to build on this coalition for reform, which includes senior law enforcement officials, we need action in Congress.

In February 2015, President Obama convened a group of lawmakers — including the Republican senators Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Rand Paul of Kentucky and the Democratic senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and Cory Booker of New Jersey — to build support for sweeping reforms. But the momentum has slowed thanks to opposition from a small group of Republican congressmen using language dredged from the past. One, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, even claimed recently that “we have an under-incarceration problem.”

The Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump, is now fanning fears about the level of crime in America, which is actually at historic lows. Such pandering is a reminder of how we got here in the first place.

A few numbers help to illustrate the scale of the problem. From the late 1970s, America’s incarceration rate more than quadrupled, to over 700 per 100,000 people from about 130; compare that with Russia, for example, which imprisons about 450 people per 100,000. Between 1970 and 2005, America’s prison and jail population increased sevenfold, to approximately 2.2 million from about 300,000.

The United States has about 5 percent of the world’s population, yet about 22 percent of its known prisoner population. In 2010, it cost about $80 billion per year to house these people in our prisons and jails.

Some more numbers: Controlling for other factors, the United States Sentencing Commission found that between December 2007 and September 2011, black male defendants received sentences 20 percent longer than their white counterparts. From 1983 to 1997, the number of African-Americans sent to prison for drug offenses went up more than 26-fold, compared with a sevenfold increase for whites. By the early 2000s, more than twice as many African-Americans as whites were in state prisons for drug offenses.

Individual responsibility must always be a primary consideration in deciding sentences, but we must also acknowledge that there is racial bias in the criminal justice system. The disparity in incarceration rates has bred distrust, alienating communities of color from those who serve valiantly in law enforcement.

The Justice Department has pioneered reform. Three years ago, as attorney general, I established the Smart on Crime initiative to reduce draconian mandatory minimum sentencing for low-level drug offenses and encourage more investment in rehabilitation programs to tackle recidivism.

The preliminary results are very encouraging. Over the last two years, federal prosecutors went from seeking a mandatory minimum penalty for drug trafficking in two-thirds of cases to doing so in less than half of them — the lowest rate on record. The initiative may not be solely responsible, but 2014 saw the first consecutive drop in the federal prison population in more than three decades, coinciding with a falling crime rate.

Those who argue that without the hammer of a mandatory minimum sentence defendants won’t cooperate are wrong — in fact, the rate of cooperation held steady under the initiative, and the rate of guilty pleas remained constant. The system remained effective and became fairer. Reform has not made us less safe.

But there’s a limit to what the Justice Department can accomplish on its own. Both the Senate and House are now considering comprehensive criminal justice reform bills that could limit the use of mandatory minimum sentences and give judges more power to not impose them. This would be a promising start, but reform must go much further.

Mandatory minimum sentences should be eliminated for many offenses, and where they are still applied, their length should be reduced. The legislative proposals necessarily reflect a compromise, but we must ensure that they go far enough: The judiciary needs greater discretion in imposing mandatory minimums, as do our prosecutors in seeking them.

Given the absence of parole in the federal system, we should increase the amount of sentence-reduction credit available to inmates with records of good conduct. And all offenders, regardless of their designated risk level, should get credit for participating in rehabilitation programs.

Federal drug courts provide proven alternatives to incarceration for men and women willing to do the hard work of recovery. We should increase investment in these programs, with a target of a court in every federal district within five years.

There is still a disparity in sentencing for offenses relating to crack and powder cocaine, chemically identical substances. Given the policy’s differential racial impact, which erodes confidence in the justice system, this disparity must go. In the light of recent events, we can’t afford criminal justice policies that reduce the already fragile trust between minority communities and law enforcement agencies.

The recidivism rate remains too high. We must remember that at least 95 percent of prisoners in state jails will eventually be released. They should have more support for their return to society, and we can increase their chances of making a successful transition by offering them the tools they need.

Mere familiarity is not a good reason to prolong a policy that’s not working. There can be no compromise on public safety, but we need a new approach: About a third of the Justice Department’s budget now goes to the Bureau of Prisons — and in the absence of change, that proportion will grow. Reform would bring not only more fairness, but also fiscal benefits. Today, the rate and length of incarceration in this country is unprecedented and unsustainable. The success of the Smart on Crime initiative proves we can be safely bold about reform.

Whatever the outcomes of the bills before Congress and the presidential election, the Justice Department existing reforms must be preserved. Important as they are, all these initiatives have a bearing only on the federal justice system, which houses about 10 percent of the prison population. For the federal effort to be a template for reform in the states, where most prisoners are detained, Congress must lead.

The nation’s lawmakers must stiffen their spines, ignore divisive language and schedule votes in this congressional session on reform legislation. An opportunity like this comes once in a generation. We must not miss it.

The over-reliance on mandatory minimum sentences must come to an end. Corey Jacobs — and others like him — have paid their debt to society.

Black Lives Still Must Matter, Even After Dallas

But the attack is a reminder that no life will be safe and truly valued until we also confront the broader American culture of violence.