Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL-18)

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Congresswoman Florida District 18

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Biography from

Biography of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

I am proud to represent Florida’s 18th Congressional District, a diverse area which includes Miami, Little Havana, Coral Gables, Pinecrest, Miami Beach, Westchester and the Florida Keys.

I was born in Havana, Cuba on July 1952. At the age of eight, my family and I were forced to flee from the oppressive communist regime of Fidel Castro. We settled in Miami and put down permanent roots in our community. I attended Southside Elementary School in Little Havana, West Miami Junior High, and Southwest High School. In the years following, I earned an Associate of Arts degree from Miami-Dade Community College in 1972, Bachelors and Masters Degree in Education from Florida International University in 1975 and 1985 respectively, and a Doctorate in Education from the University of Miami in 2004. I consider education a lifelong journey.

I began my career as a Florida certified teacher. I also founded and served as the principal and teacher of a private bilingual elementary school in Hialeah. I was inspired to enter public service by many of the parents and students; to fight on their behalf for a stronger educational system, lower taxes, and a brighter economic future.

In 1982 I was elected to the Florida State House of Representatives and the Florida Senate in 1986, becoming the first Hispanic woman to serve in either body. In the state legislature I authored the Florida Prepaid College Plan, which is now the largest pre paid college tuition program in the nation. More than one million Florida families have used this program to send their children to college.

I was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1989—the first Hispanic woman to serve in Congress–following a special election to fill the seat held by the late Claude Pepper. I have been strongly returned to Congress since, winning 69% of the vote in 2010.

To this day, I remain committed to improving the lives of my constituents and our beautiful South Florida community. As the economy remains a pressing issue, I support reducing taxes and cutting back unnecessary government spending. I also support plans to balance the federal budget and increase tax incentives for small businesses and middle class families. South Florida has also felt the devastating effects of the housing crisis. I have fought to end predatory lending practices by mortgage companies and extend the first time homebuyers tax credit.

Given my background in education, I have worked to strengthen the Head Start program. I have also supported legislation to increase the availability to student financial aid and revise the cumbersome and complicated Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) process.

I am a strong advocate of programs that address the serious problem of domestic violence against women. I was a lead sponsor of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which increases resources towards the prosecution of domestic violence, dating violence, and sexual assault. I also support legislation to increase criminal penalties for perpetrators of Medicare fraud. Medicare fraud is a deplorable practice which robs hardworking seniors of the benefits they spent a lifetime earning, while also wasting billions in taxpayer dollars.

As the wife of a Vietnam veteran and step-mother to Marine aviators, I am passionate about improving our nation’s military, safeguarding veteran’s health care, and ensuring that returning veterans have access to a college education. I have been an outspoken critic of the Miami VA’s recent failures to notify veterans who were at risk of infection, due to contaminated colonoscopy equipment. I also authored legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). These women pioneers had been denied recognition for their service during World War II.

I am the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. In this role, I have had the opportunity to voice my strong support for the state of Israel and human rights, including my opposition to Castro’s dictatorial regime in Cuba. I have also led on pressing foreign policy issues including the fight against Islamist extremism, and support of free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea.

I am the proud wife to Dexter Lehtinen, mother and step-mother to 4 adult children, and grandmother to baby Morgan Elizabeth.

Committees and Caucuses

Chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs

See Committee’s site

Serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen has become a leader in crafting U.S. foreign policy. Prior to becoming the Committee’s Chairman, a position she currently holds, she had served as Chair of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia, the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights, the Subcommittee on International Economic Policy and Trade, the Subcommittee on Africa, and as Vice-Chair of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.

As the Chair of the Africa Subcommittee from 1995 to 1996, a time when the spread of Islamist extremism and the issue of emerging sanctuaries were not frequently discussed, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen held hearings and briefings to address the rise of militant Islam throughout the continent, and she used her leadership role to draw attention to the deplorable situation in Sudan, and the genocides in Rwanda and Burundi.

In her capacity as Chair of the International Operations and Human Rights Subcommittee, she held post-9/11 hearings and briefings on radiological weapons and “dirty bombs,” and cast new light onto the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in securing nuclear materials to prevent extremists from obtaining deadly unconventional weapons. She led Congressional efforts to uncover domestic and international connections to the bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which helped link Iran and Hezbollah to the deadly attacks; convened meetings with representatives from foreign governments, the Department of State, the White House, and non-governmental organizations to secure support for efforts to shed light on the gross human rights violations in Belarus, Cuba, China, Iran, Sudan, among others, and to generate votes to block anti-Israel resolutions to be offered at the former UN Commission on Human Rights. She held oversight hearings on sex abuse by UN contractors and peacekeepers, and worked tirelessly to ensure Israel’s membership in the Western European and Others Groups (WEOG) so that Israel could be afforded all the rights of full membership status in the UN system. Her efforts on behalf of the oppressed continue to this day in her capacity as Ranking Member, having traveled to the camps in Darfur and engaged personally in legislative efforts to bring an end to the genocide there. She has offered amendments to funding bills to use the Congressional “power of the purse” to address ongoing abuse of children by UN peacekeepers.

As Chair of the International Economic Policy and Trade Subcommittee from 1997 to 2000, she authored the Export Administration Act of 1997, and held hearings to address the competing interest of U.S. business sectors impacted by control on dual use items, while focusing on critical national security interests and strengthening mechanisms to ensure that U.S. exports do not find their way to dangerous entities and countries.

Rep. Ros-Lehtinen has been a tireless advocate for human rights across the globe, challenging tyranny and championing the rights of the oppressed. In April 2007, the House passed H. Res.125, a bill she authored that condemned the use of human shields, a violation of human rights that is often practiced by violent Islamist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. She also authored the North Korea Human Rights Reauthorization Act (H.R. 5834), aimed at redoubling the United States’ efforts toward bringing lasting change to the DPRK. The House has approved legislation that she coauthored to bolster America’s commitment to fight the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, an initiative that has treated more than 1.4 million people worldwide infected with HIV and is poised to meet the goal of preventing the infection of seven million people.

Rep. Ros-Lehtinen has been a leading voice on the need for UN reform, and in July 2007 introduced HR 2712, the United Nations Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act. The bill seeks to encourage more responsibility at the UN, an organization that has been dogged by rampant moral and fiscal corruption. She has been an outspoken critic of the UN Human Rights Council, a body whose members include human rights abusers such as China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia, and has authored legislative initiatives to prevent U.S. funds from being used to support a Council that would rather denounce Israel, a democracy, than defend human rights.

Fervent in her belief that the world should never forget the atrocities against the Jewish people during the Holocaust, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen has introduced numerous bills condemning global anti-Semitism, including HJ Res 84, which calls on the United States to consider government-fomented or -tolerated anti-Semitism when determining foreign assistance. In March 2007, she introduced The Holocaust Insurance Accountability Act, legislation requiring insurance companies doing business in the United States to publicly disclose all Holocaust-era insurance policies and allowing Holocaust victims and their descendents to bring action in U.S. courts to settle claims. The legislation opens the door to the payment of billions of dollars in claims on policies held by victims and relatives of those murdered in the Holocaust.

Understanding the sophisticated challenges that the United States faces today, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen has been unbending in her support for the war on extremism. She has initiated legislative efforts to address violent Islamism, including briefings on the use of the internet by global jihadist networks and the spread of Islamist extremists in the Western Hemisphere. A staunch supporter of Israel, she exercised oversight over U.S. assistance to the Palestinians as Chair of the Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee, and authored and secured the adoption of resolutions regarding Israel’s membership on UN committees, anti-Semitism at the UN, as well as the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

When reports surfaced that UN Relief and Works Agency was employing terrorists, she fought to have the agency defunded. Moreover, she authored the Palestinian anti-Terrorism Act, which denies a Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority critical political legitimacy and economic sources, while preventing the diversion and manipulation of U.S. assistance, a bill that passed May 23, 2006, with the final text negotiated with the Senate enacted into law in December 2006. In addition, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen felt compelled to address the plight of the numerous American citizens that have been murdered or maimed by Islamist militants in attacks occurring in Israel, territories administered by Israel, or territories administered by the Palestinian Authority. She has raised this issue on numerous occasions with the Department of State, most recently in correspondence with Secretary Condoleezza Rice earlier this year urging her to ensure that the State Department takes no action that would adversely affect the legal rights of American victims of Palestinian attacks. The U.S. government did not take any such actions as a result.

Fighting to stop rogue regimes from obtaining nuclear weapons, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen introduced the Iran Freedom Support Act on January 6, 2005, which strengthened sanctions and expanded punitive measures against the Iranian regime and its enablers until the Iranian regime has dismantled its weapons of mass destruction programs. It also authorized programs to support human rights dissidents and pro-democracy forces in Iran. This Ros-Lehtinen legislation enjoyed the support of 360 House Members, with the final text signed into law on September 30, 2006. Growing concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and state-sponsorship of global jihadist activities led Rep. Ros-Lehtinen to introduce two new Iran-related bills in 2007. H.R. 957, the Iran Sanctions Amendments Act, seeks to close existing loopholes in current law by holding export credit agencies, insurers, and other financial institutions accountable for their facilitation of investments in Iran’s energy sector and sanction them. In addition, it seeks to expand the activities covered under the law to include petrochemicals and liquefied natural gas, as well as impose liability on parent companies for violations of sanctions by their foreign entities. This important legislation was overwhelmingly adopted by the House of Representatives on July 31, 2007. H.R 1357 requires U.S. government pension funds to divest from companies that do business with Iran’s energy sector. This bill also urges private funds to divest from companies that do business with Iran’s energy sector and it prohibits future investment of private and U.S. government funds in this sector. Similar legislation, which she co-sponsored, passed in the House in July 2007. She was proud to be the leading Republican sponsor of H.R. 1400, the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act, authored by the Committee’s late Chairman, Tom Lantos. This bill applies and enhances a wide range of sanctions against the radical Islamist regime in the hopes of depriving it of the foreign investment in its energy sector that finances its unconventional weapons programs and state sponsorship of Islamist extremism. In addition, last year, she introduced H.R. 394, which supports American victims of Iranian-sponsored attacks and actions by enabling victims to prosecute their claims in U.S. courts. She was able to secure language in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2007 that would ensure that these American victims would have their day in court.

Highlighting that the Syrian regime’s activities and approach to missile development and unconventional weapons parallel Iran’s and underscoring the need to prevent an escalation of the Syrian threat before it is too late to contain, on March 8, 2005, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen introduced H.R. 1141, the Lebanon and Syria Liberation Act, a bill that states that U.S. sanctions and regulation relating to Syria would remain until the Syrian regime had stopped supporting violent extremism, dismantled its weapons programs, and withdrawn from Lebanon. The act also imposed further sanctions on persons or countries that transfer goods to Syria that could be of use in Syria’s illicit weapons program. As Ranking Member, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen introduced an enhanced version of H.R. 1141. The new bill, H.R. 2332, the Syria Accountability and Liberation Act, seeks to strengthen sanctions against the Syrian regime, enhance multilateral commitments to address Syria’s threatening policies, and establish a program to support a transition to a democratically elected government in Syria. This bill, among other provisions: targets Syria’s ability to finance its weapons programs by imposing new sanctions against those who invest $5 million or more in the Syrian energy sector; codifies existing U.S. sanctions and implements regulations against Syria; and targets Syria’s weapons programs by imposing new sanctions against those who aid Syria’s efforts to obtain WMDs and the means to deliver them.

In June 2008, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen introduced the Security through Termination of Proliferation Act of 2008, or the STOP Act. This legislation aims to extend current U.S. law to sanction those individuals, entities, and governments that willingly provide equipment, materials, or other assistance to Iran, Syria or North Korea’s nuclear, biological, chemical, or missile programs by transferring or transshipping sensitive U.S. technologies. She authored a letter signed by many Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee Ranking Members, and other Members of Congress to the President asking the Administration to withdraw the U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation agreement in light of Russian assistance to Iran’s WMD program and to Iran and Syria’s missile program.

Co-Chair, Congressional Vision Caucus

The mission of the Congressional Vision Caucus is to set forth a national vision strategy to raise awareness about the increasing number of Americans at risk for age-related diseases; provide better understanding of the personal risk of vision loss and stress the importance of necessary steps to preserve and protect eyesight; inform communities so that they may prepare the treatment and rehabilitation services that will be needed; educate Members of Congress so they comprehend the scope of eye problems in our country; and ensure adequate resources are directed towards the research, prevention and treatment of eye disease.

Co-Chair, National Marine Sanctuary Caucus

The National Marine Sanctuary Caucus sets forth a strategy to raise awareness about the essential role national sanctuaries play in protecting marine habitats. The caucus promotes understanding of how national marine sanctuaries help to safeguard our natural heritage and economic well-being. It serves to inform local communities about the importance of maintaining these ecosystems for future generations to enjoy, educate Members of Congress on the importance of sanctuary protection and management, and ensure that adequate resources are directed to foster and restore these vital habitats

Biography from Ros-Lehtinen for Congress

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was born in Havana, Cuba on July 15, 1952. Forced to flee Cuba at age 8, Ileana and her family settled in Miami, Florida and put down roots. Ileana attended Southside Elementary School in Little Havana and graduated from West Miami Junior High and Southwest High School.

Ileana obtained her Associate of Arts degree from Miami-Dade Community College, Bachelors and Masters Degree in Education from Florida International University, and a Doctorate in Education from the University of Miami.

Ileana spent the early part of her career as a Florida certified teacher in the Miami-Dade Public School system. In 1981, Ileana founded Eastern Academy, a private elementary school in Hialeah where she served as teacher and principal. Ileana was inspired to run for public office by her students’ parents, who like so many in our community, were struggling to afford the American dream of owning a home and save for their children’s future education.

In 1982, Ileana began her series of “firsts” by becoming the first Hispanic woman in the Florida House and in 1986, the Florida Senate. Ileana authored the Florida Pre Prepaid College Plan, the largest pre-paid college tuition program in the nation. Since the program’s inception, more than 1.4 million families have used this savings tool to send their children to college.

Ileana entered Congress in 1989, after winning an 11 candidate special election to fill the seat held by the late Claude Pepper. Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen immediately set to work to improve the lives of her constituents and community.

While in Congress, Ileana has fought to bring fiscal discipline to Washington, keep taxes low, preserve seniors’ benefits such as Medicare and Social Security, and invest in a robust education for our students.

In recent years, Ileana has fought to end runaway spending and scale back our bloated deficit. She supports legislation to freeze unnecessary spending and eliminate all duplicative and wasteful government programs. Ileana supports legislation to require a balanced federal budget and has consistently voted against job killing, unnecessary regulations and tax increases.

Ileana believes that true reform should include tax incentives to families and businesses. Small businesses are a main engine of economic growth in South Florida and their ability to grow is vital for the long term stability of our economy. Ileana also supports providing tax savings to small businesses which provide healthcare benefits to their employees.

Ileana has fought to ensure the financial stability to Social Security and Medicare. She is the co-author of legislation to increase criminal penalties for perpetrators of Medicare fraud. Medicare fraud robs our seniors of their hard earned benefits and costs taxpayers billions of dollars.

Education remains one of Ileana’s top priorities. She supports legislation to increase the availability of student financial aid, and reduce the paperwork burden for students and parents applying for financial aid for college. Ileana is also a strong supporter of the Head Start program for elementary education, and curriculums which incorporate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—critical learning blocks of a 21st century education.

A champion of the environment, Ileana is a strong supporter of coral reef conservation programs, has worked to bring improved water quality to the Florida Keys, as well as combat beach erosion throughout Miami Beach.

As South Floridians continue to suffer the devastating consequences of hurricanes and other natural disasters, Ileana has worked to improve the National Flood Insurance Program. She supports a permanent extension of this important program to provide necessary flood insurance to South Florida homeowners. Ileana also supports the creation of a National Catastrophe Fund, which would help rein in the skyrocketing cost of homeowners insurance.

Ileana serves as Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. In that role, Ileana is an outspoken advocate for human rights. She has led the Congress on human rights issues pertaining to Tibet and Darfur, even authoring legislation to award his Holiness the Dalai Lama with the Congressional Gold Medal.

Ileana is one of Congress’ leading supporters of the State of Israel. She is also working with her colleagues to provide for a strong national defense and fight against Islamist extremism overseas. In the Western Hemisphere, Ileana supports trade agreements with Colombia and Peru and remains committed to helping the people of Haiti recover from the devastating earthquake of 2010. She is also a champion in the domestic and international fight against HIV/AIDS.

As a Cuban refugee, Ileana’s dedication to a free Cuba is at the heart of many legislative battles. Her interactions with former political prisoners of Castro’s gulags serve as inspiration to relentlessly speak out in favor of human rights, democracy, and respect for individual liberties.

Ileana is married to Dexter Lehtinen; the couple has 2 adult children. Ileana is also a proud step-mother and grandmother.

Do you know where you still on the political spectrum? See “Political Beliefs, Where Are You” to find out where you stand.

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