U.S. Representative José E. Serrano represents the Fifteenth Congressional District of New York in the Bronx . He is the only Congressman from New York City on the exclusive House Appropriations Committee and serves as Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. This prestigious post as top Democrat on the Subcommittee allows Congressman Serrano to help oversee the budgets of multiple agencies, including the Treasury Department including the IRS; the FDIC; the District of Columbia; the Judicial branch, and other agencies. Congressman Serrano is also Senior Whip for the Minority Whip operation, a position through which he helps develop strategies to marshal support for party positions and legislation. He is an active member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and served as Chair of the Caucus from 1993-94. He is now the most senior Member of Congress of Puerto Rican descent.
Early in his tenure in the House, Serrano quickly established a legislative record that reflected, and continues to reflect, his core political values of equal opportunity and fair treatment for all citizens. In particular, Serrano believes that government should work to ensure that the prosperity of our country is shared by the neediest and most vulnerable members of our society- the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and children- in the form of participation in government, educational opportunities, access to housing and affordable health care. As a member of the Committee on Education and Labor in his first term, Serrano authored legislation, signed into law in November 1990, to provide funding for successful school drop-out prevention programs.
During the 102nd Congress (1991-1992), Serrano continued to build on this record of accomplishment by introducing more legislative initiatives along these themes. His Voting Rights Language Assistance Act of 1992, signed into law, mandated that voter materials continue to be provided in different languages. He also introduced the Classroom Safety Act, which would have provided program models and grants to assist local educational agencies in efforts to reduce and prevent violent crime in elementary and secondary schools.
In 1993, Serrano joined the Appropriations Committee, which is responsible for shaping expenditures of discretionary federal funds. Because Appropriations is an exclusive Committee, he was required to give up his seat on Education and Labor. That same year he was also elected by his colleagues to serve as Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) during the 103rd Congress. As Chairman, Serrano’s strong leadership contributed to the passage of several bills of interest to Hispanics and other minorities. During this same period, the CHC helped to defeat of a number of pieces of legislation that were widely criticized as attempts at “immigrant-bashing” and veiled bigotry.
In 1995, when the House Republicans became the majority and reduced the Appropriations Committee in size, Serrano was appointed to the House Judiciary Committee, in which he served on the Subcommittee on the Constitution. The Democratic Caucus re-appointed him to the Appropriations Committee in March of 1996.
As a Member of the House Appropriations Committee, Serrano has managed to secure millions of dollars in federal funding for his Bronx Congressional District. He has directed funding to countless local initiatives, including environmental projects, improvements to Bronx parks, educational programs for disadvantaged students and displaced workers and funding for various local charitable organizations, whose goals range from providing access to the arts to developing small businesses.
Perhaps the most notable of all these projects have involved the environmental restoration of the Bronx River. Serrano has been a tireless advocate for the urban river since taking office, and was an early supporter of naming the river an American Heritage River. Through the appropriations process, furthermore, Serrano has been able to secure millions in funding, as well as technical and managerial assistance from various federal agencies, for Bronx River environmental studies and cleanup projects since fiscal year 1999. In recognition of his long record of successful advocacy on behalf of the river, the Bronx community named Congressman Serrano the Honorary Chairman of the Bronx River Golden Ball in 2003. In 2006, herring were reintroduced to the river in 2006–a species that had been gone from the river for more than 350 years. In early 2007, a beaver was found living in the Bronx River, marking the return of a species that had been not been seen in New York City in more than 200 years.
Even as Serrano has been actively engaged in all stages of Congress’s annual appropriations process, he has not lost sight of the other important issues of great concern to the residents of the Bronx.
Pushing for a Practical National Language Policy
Serrano authored the English Plus Resolution, which calls on the government to encourage all Americans to learn and use multiple languages, in addition to English. He vehemently opposes “English only” proposals because he believes that implementing such a policy would be harmful to civil rights and America’s broader national interests. In 1996, the English Plus Resolution came close to House passage, and Serrano has proposed it again in the current Congress.
Protecting Civil Liberties
Congressman Serrano has been a leading, and often lonely, voice in the House on preserving Americans’ civil liberties as federal law enforcement agencies continue to transform in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He voted against the USA PATRIOT Act, and uses his positions on his Appropriations Subcommittees to monitor the activities of the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. In countless pieces of correspondence and numerous verbal exchanges during Subcommittee hearings, Serrano has unhesitatingly challenged agency heads on what he has often perceived as a systematic effort to curtail Americans’ rights.
Advocating a More Sensible Approach to Cuba
Since his earliest days in Congress, Congressman Serrano has been actively involved in ending the embargo against Cuba. He has sponsored legislation and worked tirelessly to educate other Members of Congress about how the embargo harms American businesses and American farmers. While Serrano was once part of a tiny group in Congress to support a changed approach to Cuba, growing numbers of Members join Congressman Serrano in signing on to his Bridges to the Cuban People Act each year.
Promoting a Rational, Humane Immigration Policy
Serrano’s most recent immigration-related legislative proposal enacted into law responded to the September 11th terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. The law granted posthumous citizenship to non-citizens who died as a result of the September 11th attacks and who had already initiated the process to become U.S. citizens. Serrano succeeded in having the bill incorporated into a larger bill, which signed into law (P.L. 107-77) at the end of 2001. He is a consistent supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, and has repeatedly introduced the Child Citizen Protection Act, which would allow judges to exercise discretion in deportation cases that involve parents or guardians of citizen children.