Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was born on July 15, 1952 in Havana, Cuba. She and her family fled the communist regime and settled in Miami, Florida where she attended Southside Elementary in Little Havana.
After moving to Westchester, a suburb of Miami-Dade County, Ileana graduated from West Miami Middle School and Southwest Miami Senior High School. She continued her education at Miami Dade College where she obtained her Associates of Arts degree. A proud Golden Panther, Ileana obtained her Bachelors and Masters Degrees in education at Florida International University. In 2004, Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen completed her Doctorate degree from the University of Miami in Coral Gables.
Developing a passion for teaching from an early age, Ileana became a Florida certified teacher and founded Eastern Academy, a private elementary school in Hialeah where she served as a teacher and school principal. Through meetings with hundreds of parents who were struggling to attain the American dream of home ownership and saving for their children’s future education, Ileana became inspired to help those in her community by running for public office.
In 1982, Ileana began her series of “firsts” by becoming the first Hispanic woman in the Florida House of Representatives.
Soon after, in 1986, she became the first Hispanic woman in the Florida Senate. Upon her election to the United States Congress in 1989, she had the honor of being the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress, in addition to being the first Cuban-American in Congress.
While in the Florida Senate, Ileana sponsored the legislation for the Florida Pre-Paid College Tuition Program, which is now the largest pre-paid college tuition program in the nation. Since its inception in 1987, over 1.6 million families have used this vital tool to foster a better future for their children by ensuring a college education.
After winning a special election in 1989 to fill the U.S. Congressional seat held by the late Claude Pepper, Ileana immediately began working to enhance the lives of her constituents and make South Florida a better place. From working to strengthen the South Florida economy to fighting for additional funding for our local Coast Guard, Ileana’s work can easily be seen across our community.
Ileana has constantly strived to make Washington more fiscally responsible, to lower taxes, preserve senior benefits such as Medicare and Social Security, and ensure a top-notch education for our students, one that makes them globally competitive.
With an ever-growing national deficit, Ileana has strived to reign in wasteful government spending and decrease our national debt. By eliminating duplicative and wasteful government programs, Ileana believes we can work together as a nation to find a solution to our financial woes. She believes in a constitutional amendment mandating a balanced budget and has consistently voted against legislation that would hinder economic growth though unnecessary regulation and tax increases for small businesses. Ileana is in favor of comprehensive tax reform that will benefit families and small businesses, which she considers to be the backbone of our economy and vital to economic growth. She supports providing tax incentives to small businesses that provide healthcare benefits to their employees.
Ileana has fought to ensure that our nation keeps the promises it has made to our seniors through her defense of Medicare and Social Security. She has co-authored legislation that increases the criminal penalty for those guilty of Medicare fraud- a problem that costs taxpayers billions of dollars annually.
Her passion for our students continues in Congress and the issue remains at the top of her concerns. She supports legislation that increases the availability of student financial aid and reduces the amount of unnecessary paperwork that hinders students in need during the application process. Ileana believes in an education system that is multifaceted and includes a locally driven innovative curriculum that reflects the needs of today’s students and adequately prepares them for a bright future.
Ileana recognizes South Florida’s distinctive and delicate ecosystem and is a champion of environmental reform at home. She has worked with local authorities to combat erosion in Miami Beach, improve water quality in the Florida Keys, and dredge the Miami River.
Ileana understands the problems that are unique to South Florida. Florida residents have battled the devastation of hurricanes and other natural disasters, and Ileana has fought to improve vital programs that help residents recover, such as the National Flood Insurance Program. Ileana also supports the creation of a National Catastrophe Fund, which would help stabilize the skyrocketing cost of homeowners insurance.
Former Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana is now Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa. In this post, Ileana continues to tirelessly encourage the expansion of liberty and democracy in the region, while advocating for the protection of basic human rights.
Ileana also serves as a member of the important Committee on Rules, whose main priority is to ensure that legislation of the utmost importance is presented on the House floor.
A founding member of the Congressional Hispanic Conference, Ileana presently serves as Vice-Chair. The Conference’s main objective is to promote legislation that addresses issues affecting the Hispanic community.
Honoring the work of his Holiness the Dalai Lama, Ileana authored legislation that ultimately awarded him the Congressional Gold Medal.
As one of Congress’ leading supporters of the State of Israel, Ileana is committed to fighting Islamic extremism overseas while providing much needed assistance to our key ally in the Middle East. Closer to home, Ileana spearheaded trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, Korea, and Peru which enhanced our local economy and created thousands of jobs in South Florida- the gateway to the Americas.
Having fled the communist regime in Cuba as a child, freedom and democracy for the island is a dream that Ileana persistently works to make a reality. From meeting with activists and former political prisoners of the tyrannical Castro regime, Ileana is a staunch voice that supports human rights, democracy, and respect for individual liberties around the world.
Rooted deep in the community, Ileana continues to work for the interests of South Florida every day. She is married to Dexter Lehtinen; the couple has two adult children. Ileana is also a proud stepmother and grandmother.