Silvestre Reyes

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Silvestre Reyes
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 16th district
In office
January 3, 1997 – January 3, 2013
Preceded byRon Coleman
Succeeded byBeto O'Rourke
Chair of the House Intelligence Committee
In office
January 3, 2007 – January 3, 2011
Preceded byPete Hoekstra
Succeeded byMike Rogers
Personal details
Born (1944-11-10) November 10, 1944 (age 79)
Canutillo, Texas, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
SpouseCarolina Reyes
EducationEl Paso Community College
University of Texas, Austin
Military service
AllegianceUnited States of America
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1966–1968[1]
Rank Sergeant
Battles/warsVietnam War
AwardsAir Medal

Silvestre "Silver" Reyes[2] (born November 10, 1944) is an American politician who was the U.S. representative for Texas's 16th congressional district, serving from 1997 to 2013. 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[3] to former El Paso city councilman Beto O'Rourke.

In 2008 Reyes served as the Southwest Co-Chairman for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign along with Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. Then U.S. Senator Clinton praised Reyes saying he was "one of our wisest and most experienced leaders on national security and the particular issues that affect Americans living along the border and throughout the Southwest. I am proud to have his support and grateful for his advice."[4]

Early life, education, and career[edit]

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 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 illegal 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 illegal immigrants from crossing in protected urban areas such as El Paso and San Diego, California, and as such forced them to cross through desolate and more dangerous parts of the Southwestern 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, along with other factors, in reducing illegal immigration.

U.S. House of Representatives[edit]

As a senior member of both the Armed Services and (formerly) Select Intelligence Committees, Reyes was a key player in developing military and defense policy. 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.[5]

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 Calderón 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,[6] 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.[7]

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."[8] 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."[9]

Committee assignments[edit]

Caucus memberships[edit]

  • Congressional Arts Caucus
  • Congressional Hispanic Caucus (Chair)


In 2006, Reyes was also selected as the "El Pasoan of the Year" by the El Paso, Inc. for his successful efforts in Congress to expand the role and mission of Fort Bliss. He is also the recipient of the League of United Latin American Citizens "Lucy G. Acosta Humanitarian Award," and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce "President's Lifetime Achievement Award."[10]

In 2008, the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) presented Reyes with the "Outstanding Legislator Award," calling him as a "great [friend] of the Army as an institution and [supporter] of soldiers and their families." Reyes established the Congressional USO (United Service Organizations) Caucus. That same year ASME honored Reyes with the ASME President's Award on April 3, 2008. ASME President Sam Zamrik presented the award in recognition of Reyes' "outstanding contributions in promoting diversity in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields" as the co-founder of the Congressional Diversity and Innovation Caucus.[11]

The Frontera Land Alliance presented Reyes with the organization's "Rock Award" in 2010 for his efforts to preserve Castner Range in Northeast El Paso for conservation purposes. As a senior Member of the House Armed Services Committee, Reyes worked to transfer ownership of Castner Range from the Department of Defense to preserve the 7,000-acres of undeveloped desert, foothills, and mountains in Northeast El Paso.[12]

In 2012 The Minority Business Development Agency presented Reyes with their Venable Legacy Award for Lifetime Achievement ABE during their National Minority Enterprise Week Conference.[13]

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute honored Reyes known on the hill for his humor by naming their annual stand up comedy event the "Reyes of Comedy" in 2000. The event seeks to promote a positive image of Latinos while raising critical funds for CHCI's programs that empower Latino youth through educational attainment and leadership development programs. In 2013 the Institute chose Reyes as the inaugural inductee into the Reyes of Comedy Hall of fame.[14]

On October 29, 2012 the Canutillo Independent School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously to name a school after Reyes and his wife Carolina. The school which is to be open by the 2014-15 school year will serve students in grades pre-kindergarten through eighth.[15]

Political campaigns[edit]

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.[16] He then defeated Jose Luis Sanchez in the runoff by just over 1,000 votes.[17] He won the general election with little trouble, taking 70 percent of the vote.[18] Although the 16th has long since become a Latino-majority district, Reyes was 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[19] and 2008,[20] and was completely unopposed in 2000.

In 2012, Reyes lost the Democratic primary to former El Paso City Council member Beto O'Rourke, taking 44.4 percent of the vote—just a few hundred votes short of forcing a runoff.[21] Reyes' campaign received endorsements from incumbent President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton, with the latter appearing at a rally for him.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Once a Soldier... Always a Soldier" (PDF). Legislative Agenda. Association of the United States Army. 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 October 2013. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
  2. ^ Congressional Record
  3. ^ In upset, El Paso US Rep. Reyes loses tight race - Houston Chronicle
  4. ^ "House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes Endorses Hillary Clinton for President". Democratic Under Ground. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  5. ^ "Pelosi taps Reyes to head intelligence committee". Archived from the original on December 1, 2006.
  6. ^ Reyes: Deal Soon on Eavesdropping Law Archived March 4, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Walsh, Deirdre. "House Democrats unveil new surveillance bill -". CNN. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  8. ^ Jeff Stein: Democrats’ New Intelligence Chairman Needs a Crash Course on al Qaeda Archived 2009-09-25 at the Wayback Machine (Congressional Quarterly, 8 December 2006)
  9. ^ "El Paso Times". Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  10. ^ "Arena Profile: Rep. Silvestre Reyes".
  11. ^ ASME (May 2008). "NEWS Online". Archived from the original on 2008-05-13.
  12. ^ Gaglio, Michael. "President" (PDF). Frontera Land Alliance/. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
  13. ^ "2012-award-winners". Retrieved 6 January 2016.
  14. ^ "Laugh for a Great Cause and Honor Rep. Silvestre Reyes on September 12 at CHCI's Reyes of Comedy". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  15. ^ "CISD School Named for Congressman, wife" (PDF). CISD. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-01-25.
  16. ^ "Our Campaigns - TX District 16 - D Primary Race - Mar 12, 1996". Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  17. ^ "Our Campaigns - TX District 16 - D Runoff Race - Apr 09, 1996". Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  18. ^ "Our Campaigns - TX District 16 Race - Nov 05, 1996". Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  19. ^ "Our Campaigns - TX District 16 Race - Nov 03, 1998". Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  20. ^ "El Paso County, TX Elections - El Paso County Elections Department". Archived from the original on 2010-01-05. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  21. ^ Sledge, Matt (May 29, 2012). "Pot Supporter Wins Texas Congress Race". Huffington Post.
  22. ^ "Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) defeated by Beto O'Rourke - The Washington Post". The Washington Post.

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 16th congressional district

Succeeded by
Preceded by Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chair of the House Intelligence Committee
Succeeded by
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded byas Former US Representative Order of precedence of the United States
as Former US Representative
Succeeded byas Former US Representative