Ileana Ros-Lehtinen proudly represents Florida’s 27th Congressional District, a diverse area which includes Coral Gables, Cutler Bay, Key Biscayne, Little Havana, Miami, Miami Beach, Pinecrest, South Miami, and Westchester.
She was born in Havana, Cuba in July, 1952. At the age of eight, her family was forced to flee from the oppressive communist regime of Fidel Castro. The family settled in Miami and put down permanent roots in the community. Ileana attended Southside Elementary School in Little Havana, West Miami Junior High, and Southwest High School. In the years following, she 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. Ileana considers education a lifelong journey.
She began her career as a Florida certified teacher. She also founded and served as the principal and teacher of a private bilingual elementary school in Hialeah. Ileana 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, Ileana 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, she sponsored the legislation for the Florida Pre Paid College Program, 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.
Ileana 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. She won re-election and will finish her last term in congress on January 2, 2019.
Ileana remains committed to improving the lives of the constituents of the beautiful South Florida community. As the economy remains a pressing issue for so many of South Florida’s families, Ileana supports reducing taxes and cutting unnecessary government spending. She also supports plans to balance the federal budget and increase tax incentives for small businesses and middle class families.
Given her background in education, Ileana has worked to strengthen the Head Start program and has also supported legislation to increase the availability to student financial aid, and revise the cumbersome and complicated Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) process.
Ileana is a strong advocate of programs that address the serious problem of domestic violence against women. She 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. She also supports 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, Ileana is passionate about improving our nation’s military, safeguarding veteran’s health care, and ensuring that returning veterans have access to a college education. She 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.
Ileana is Chairman emeritus of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and is now Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa. In this role, Ileana continues to voice her strong support for the state of Israel and human rights, including her opposition to Castro’s dictatorial regime in Cuba. She has 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. She was proud to lead the fight in the House of Representatives to impose sanctions on human rights violators in Venezuela. Ileana also serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to help ensure our nation has the best intelligence gathering capabilities and processes to determine actionable threats.
Ileana is the proud wife of Dexter Lehtinen, mother and step-mother to 4 adult children, and grandmother to five beautiful grandchildren – Morgan Elizabeth, Caroline Grace, Killian Marie, Dustin Winslow, and Javier Enrique.