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Silvestre Reyes: 1944—: Congressman

Elected To Congress

After leading a successful career in the INS for 25 years and gaining local and national attention for his programs with the El Paso Border Patrol, Reyes retired from the service in 1995 to pursue a political career. "The local press hailed him the Colin Powell of El Paso, a man who stood so high above politics that he must surely want a political career," the Economist wrote about Reyes in March of 1996. Reyes decided to run as a Democrat for a congressional seat in the House of Representatives for the 16th District, which lies within El Paso County. He campaigned on a moderate platform, urging more spending for education and promoting high-tech jobs, highway development, and capital gains tax cuts. Reyes faced a tough primary election against a candidate who was supported by the unions, but won in a runoff with 51% of the vote. He went on to win the general election, becoming the first Hispanic to represent this district. Reyes went on to win two more elections in 1998 and 2000. "Although Reyes campaigned for the March 12 primary as a pro-life, law-and-order Democrat, his real popularity lies not in what he advocates but in what he personifies: the local Hispanic farm boy who made good, the man who got mainstream society to accept him as an American citizen first and a hyphenated American second," reported the New Republic in April of 1996.

Reyes quickly positioned himself as a leader on immigration issues. After only five months in office, Reyes was one of only three congressmen asked to join President Clinton in a meeting with Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo. This was a historic meeting, since it was the first time an active United States president had visited Mexico City since 1979. At the meeting leaders discussed border management, drug trafficking, immigration, and transportation issues. In November of 2001 Reyes co-sponsored the Immigration Reform and Accountability Act, which recommended restructuring the INS. "I strongly believe that if we are going to truly improve the way we secure our border and serve future citizens and residents, we must abolish the INS and create one bureau responsible for border enforcement and one bureau responsible for other immigration services," Reyes explained in a press release regarding the proposed legislation. As a result of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, Reyes has become outspoken on the importance of border security. In response to the passage of a border security bill on May 8, 2002, Reyes said in a press statement, "Securing our homeland is vital, and it is imperative we begin at our borders."

Reyes has also focused his political career on other issues. As he told the Miami Herald in June of 2001, "I also have to work diligently not to get pigeonholed as just the one to see on border issues." For example Reyes is interested in promoting United States-Mexican relations, particularly with respect to economic development. In a press statement Reyes explained, "With our location at the center of the U.S.-Mexico border and ideal position on the established Pan American Highway and Camino Real trade routes, El Paso must become a key artery for commerce between Latin America, the U.S., and Canada."

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Dudley Randall Biography - A Poet from an Early Age to Ferrol Sams Jr BiographySilvestre Reyes: 1944—: Congressman Biography - Joined Immigration And Naturalization Service, Elected To Congress, Became Chair Of The Congressional Hispanic Caucus