Congressman Serrano was born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, and though he moved to New York with his family at age six, he has always identified strongly with his Puerto Rican identity. His great love for Puerto Rico and its people has been the source of many of his greatest accomplishments in Congress. From ending the Navy's bombing of Vieques, to opening the FBI's files on actions against Puerto Ricans, to ensuring fair economic treatment for Puerto Rico, Congressman Serrano has always sought to ensure that Puerto Ricans are treated the way any other American citizen group would be treated.
On one issue in particular, Congressman Serrano has been a leading voice--self determination for Puerto Rico. A territory of the United States since 1898, Puerto Rico has always had a strained and often painful relationship with the United States. Congressman Serrano believes that this relationship, called territorial officially, is actually best described as 'colonial.' Because the U.S. Congress has complete control over the terms of the relationship, and also can interfere in Puerto Rico's internal affairs, Congressman Serrano believes that any ability of Puerto Ricans to choose their own destiny is essentially denied. Therefore, he believes that the U.S. Congress must start the process of self determination, by setting forth the options that they would be able to accept should the Puerto Rican people chose one or another.
Congressman Serrano believes that among all the ideas for future status for Puerto Rico, only two are viable and non-colonial. He is indifferent between the two, which are either independence or statehood. He opposes and could not support any continuation of a colonial relationship. He often says that he is the member of a Puerto Rican political movement that has only one member--Congressman Serrano--because he does not favor any particular outcome of a status rearrangement, except anything colonial. Congressman Serrano is the co-sponsor of a bill to begin this process, and has worked tirelessly to push the bill through the House.
Congressman Serrano has been actively involved in both ending the bombing on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico and in assisting with its subsequent cleanup. Like many other politicians and people of conscience, Congressman Serrano opposed the Navy bombing of this island. In 1999, this bombing exercise reached a point of crisis, when two errant bombs killed a civilian Puerto Rican security guard. Congressman Serrano continued to protest these training exercises and was subsequently arrested for an act of civil disobedience after he stood in front of the White House with a sign asking for an ending of the bombing. Finally, in May 2003, the Navy officially ended their 60 years of bombing exercises.
Once the bombing ended, Congressman Serrano shifted his efforts towards the cleanup of the contamination that had been caused by this bombing. He secured strong language in the Defense Appropriations Committee Report for FY 2004 saying that the Committee expected the Navy to provide sufficient levels of funding to meet the Navy’s commitment to undertake environmental remediation on the island of Vieques. However, he remained concerned not only about the damage caused by the training activities to the island’s environment and natural resources, but also about the incidence of cancer and other diseases caused by the increase in pollutants released by the Navy’s operations.
As ranking Member of the Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations Subcommittee, Congressman Serrano secured funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to enable NOAA to bring its expertise to this important environmental restoration effort. As a result of this funding, NOAA worked closely with the Navy and the EPA on projects such as underwater surveys, educational outreach, and marine habitat assessment.
Congressman Serrano continues to monitor the cleanup progress on Vieques. He believes that our government has an obligation to achieve justice for the people of Vieques, who have paid a high price for the protection of our nation, by repairing the damage caused to their home by over 60 years of bombing.
Congressman Serrano also pushed for the declassification of FBI records regarding the Bureau's activities over multiple decades in Puerto Rico targeting independence activists and unrelated citizens. In the spring of 2000, he asked then-FBI head Louis Freeh to release these secret files. To the surprise of many he agreed, and soon after, Congressman Serrano's office began receiving the files. Serrano reached an agreement with the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, CUNY, to receive and catalog these files and provide access to scholars and students. Since then, the files have revealed a covert program that operated from the 1930’s to the 1970’s which targeted independence activists, sympathizers and unconnected citizens. The knowledge of these programs has strengthened Puerto Rican hands when it comes to dealing with the FBI in the present day, and will hopefully prevent future damaging programs from being implemented.
Congressman Serrano's roots in Puerto Rico have pushed him to take many actions on behalf of the proud island and its people. He believes that all who are U.S. citizens, and fight and die on behalf of our great nation deserve the respect and honor they are due. He will continue to push the U.S. Congress to treat Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican people with fairness and respect.
More on Puerto Rico
Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman José E. Serrano (D-The Bronx) sent a letter along with Congresswomen Nydia M. Velázquez (NY), Stacey E. Plaskett (VI), Jenniffer González-Colón (PR), and 52 members of the U.S. House of Representatives urging U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to do more to help federal student loan borrowers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that have been affected by Hurricanes Maria and Irma.
Washington, DC - Congressman José E. Serrano (NY-15) today released the following statement in response to President Trump’s latest tweets on PR where he blamed Puerto Rico for the crisis and threatened to pull aid from Puerto Rico:
“Once again the President has shown he does not understand or care about the magnitude of the crisis that Puerto Rico faces. As an American territory, the federal government has a responsibility to help the island and its American citizens address this humanitarian crisis head on and allocate the required resources as long as necessary.
“This is a first step in addressing the needs of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The funding provides short term assistance to the government of Puerto Rico and the federal government, allowing them to continue their relief and recovery efforts.
In Washington, DC
Congressman Serrano Leads Letter on Need for Comprehensive Emergency Supplemental for Puerto Rico
This week, Congressman José E. Serrano led a letter with 7 of his colleagues in support of a comprehensive relief and recovery effort by the federal government to help Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas, and Florida. The letter includes a number of important programs that must be funded in both the near and long term:
Washington, DC – In response to news reports that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) removed from its website key data on Puerto Rico’s access to potable water and electricity post Hurricane Maria, Congressman Jose E. Serrano sent a letter today to the agency’s Administration to express his outrage on behalf of Puerto Rico and ask for clarification on the sudden removal of this information:
Washington, DC - Today, Congressman Jose E. Serrano, a senior Member of the Appropriations Committee, led a letter with 8 of his colleagues in support of a comprehensive relief and recovery effort by the federal government to help Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas, and Florida. The letter includes a number of important programs that must be funded in both the near and long term.
In Washington, DC
Congressman Serrano Fight for Puerto Rico In the Aftermath of Hurricane Maria
Washington, DC - Congressman José E. Serrano together with 50 Members of Congress sent a letter to President Trump urging him to deploy all available federal assets and agencies to rebuild the communications infrastructure of Puerto Rico. The island has failing infrastructure that needs to be addressed immediately to aid with recovery efforts.
Washington, DC –Congressman José E. Serrano today led eight Members of Congress in sending a letter to Secretary Price and Assistant Secretary Kadlec of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to ask for an immediate increase in resources to address the emerging public health emergency in Puerto Rico. Serrano was joined on the letter by Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, Congressman Darren Soto, Congressman Joseph Crowley, Congressman Adriano Espaillat, Congresswoman Grace Meng, and Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy.
Today, Congressman Serrano issued the following statement on Hurricane Maria and its impact on Puerto Rico: