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Biography Silvestre Reyes

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Silvestre Reyes Silvestre Reyes
Silvestre Reyes
Former U.S. Representative for Texas's 16th congressional district, serving from 1997 to 2013 - member of the Democratic Party.


Silvestre Reyes Biography

ENG: Silvestre "Silver" Reyes (born November 10, 1944) is the former U.S. Representative for Texas's 16th congressional district, serving from 1997 to 2013. The district includes almost all of El Paso. He is a member of the Democratic Party. He was Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence between 2007 and 2011. In the Democratic Primary election on May 29, 2012, Reyes lost by a margin wide enough to avert a runoff election to former El Paso city councilman Beto O'Rourke.


Early life, education and career

Reyes was born in Canutillo, an unincorporated suburban community west of El Paso, and is the oldest of 10 children. He graduated from Canutillo High School and received his Associate's Degree from El Paso Community College. He attended the University of Texas at Austin before serving in the United States Army in 1966. In 1967, Reyes served as a helicopter crew chief in the Vietnam War. In 1968, Reyes suffered complete hearing loss to his right ear when mortar landed near his foxhole during combat.

In 1969, Reyes joined the U.S. Border Patrol where he served for over 26 years. From 1984 - 1995 Reyes served as the Sector Chief for the McAllen and El Paso Sectors of the Border Patrol. In 1993, while serving as the Chief Patrol Agent of the El Paso Border Patrol Sector, Reyes led the Border Patrol to strategically position agents on the border to intercept undocumented immigrants in a strategy later termed "Operation Hold the Line". This operation was the predecessor to a similar operation dubbed "Operation Gatekeeper" in Southern California. Such tactics were not without controversy, as placing Border Patrol Agents in high visibility positions placed them at tremendous risk from rock and firearms assaults from the Mexican side of the border. Immigrant-rights groups also protested the strategy, as it was effective in deterring undocumented aliens from crossing in protected urban areas such as El Paso and San Diego, California and as such "forced" them to cross through desolate parts of the Southern United States, such as the deserts of the Imperial Valley in California and the Sonora desert in Arizona. Reyes gained enormous popularity in the 16th Congressional District due to the Operation's success in reducing undocumented immigration.


U.S. House of Representatives

As a senior member of both the Armed Services and (formerly) Select Intelligence Committees, Reyes is a key member of Congress on Defense and military issues. He is credited with the recent success of Fort Bliss and White Sands military bases in the most recent Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) decisions by the Department of Defense. On December 1, 2006, Reyes was tapped by Pelosi, the prospective Speaker of the House, to be the new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Reyes was a key player in the 109th Congress because of his Immigration and Border Patrol experience. He was instrumental in leading the opposition to the House immigration proposal proposed by James Sensenbrenner, H.R. 4437. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi selected Reyes to present and lead the debate on a Democratic substitute to replace the Sensenbrenner legislation, which was voted down on a party line vote.

Reyes has served as chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. In 2002, he considered running for the United States Senate, but decided against such a move. In 2005 he missed 94 votes in the House, the ninth most of any member.

On March 27, 2009, Reyes was tapped by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to lead a high-level Congressional Delegation to meet with President Felipe Calderon of Mexico. Reyes led the delegation and was accompanied by Ike Skelton, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and Howard Berman, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The three high-ranking Chairman discussed Mexico's efforts to combat drug-related violence and assessed U.S. efforts to assist the Mexican government.

In his role as Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Reyes was a deciding factor in whether legislation on the floor of the House extending provisions of the FISA would include retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies which participated in the NSA's warrantless wiretap program. Although he initially supported immunity for telecommunications companies, saying that immunity was necessary and the companies hadn't done anything illegal, eventually after being contacted by pressure groups, the version of the legislation he introduced did not contain provisions for telecom immunity, despite Republican threats to torpedo any bill that did not contain telecom immunity.

In a December 2006 interview with Congressional Quarterly, Reyes said that al-Qaeda, an exclusively Sunni group, was composed of "both" Sunni and Shi'te members. He then instead asserted al-Qaeda is "predominantly probably Shi'ite." He also avoided answering the question whether Hezbollah, a Shi'ite organization, was Sunni or Shi'ite.

In the same interview, Reyes said he favored sending more troops to Iraq: "on a temporary basis, I’m willing to ramp them up by twenty or thirty thousand ... for, I don’t know, two months, four months, six months – but certainly that would be an exception." Yet, a month later, when President George W. Bush proposed sending approximately 21,500 more troops, Reyes said to the El Paso Times, "we don't have the capability to escalate even to this minimal level."


Political campaigns

In 1995, Reyes retired from the U.S. Border Patrol and announced his candidacy for the U.S. Congress against Ron Coleman in the Democratic primary, but Coleman later retired. Reyes finished first in a five-way Democratic primary--the real contest in this heavily Democratic district. He then defeated Jose Luis Sanchez in the runoff by just over 1,000 votes. He won the general election with little trouble, taking 70 percent of the vote. Although the 16th has long since become majority-Hispanic, Reyes is the first Latino to represent the district.

He was reelected seven times with no substantive Republican opposition. He only faced a Libertarian challenger in 1998 and 2008, and was completely unopposed in 2000.

In 2012, Reyes was defeated by primary challenger Beto O'Rourke, taking 44.4 percent of the vote--just a few hundred votes short of forcing a runoff.





January 15, 2013

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