James Himes: first Peruvian-born American elected to U.S. Congress

James A. “Jim” Himes, a 42-year-old former Wall Street banker, is the first Peruvian-born American to be elected to the U.S. Congress, and the first Democrat elected to represent Connecticut’s 4th Congressional District since Donald J. Irwin of Norwalk, who lost to Republican Lowell P. Weicker in 1968.

“Peruvians and Latin Americans are stoked about my election because they know that they now have a representative in Congress who knows and understands the Hispanic community,” said Himes, who specialized in Latin American markets as a banker.

In Connecticut’s 4th Congressional District, Jim Himes, a former Goldman Sachs executive, rolled to victory Tuesday, obtaining 51 percent of the popular vote. He defeated Representative Christopher Shays, a 10-term Republican seemingly immune to repeated Democrat efforts to oust him. Himes is to assume office on January 3, 2009.

Himes was born in Lima in 1966 to U.S.-born parents. He lived until the age of 10 in Peru and Colombia , where his father spent a decade working for private and non-governmental organizations such as the Ford Foundation and UNICEF. He returned to the U.S. in 1976, accompanied by his mother and two sisters. As a high-school and college student he worked like many of his peers mowing lawns, painting homes and in a drugstore and pizza parlor, before getting involved in politics. He graduated from public schools in New Jersey before attending Harvard and Oxford, on a Rhodes Scholarship.

After working in Goldman Sachs, in 2002 Himes was appointed a commissioner of the Greenwich Housing Authority and in 2004 joined the non-profit Enterprise Comunity Partners, where he later began running their metropolitan New York operations and in 2007 was named vice-president of Enterprise.

“They are proud to have given me their support,” said Himes, in reference to the Mexican-, Peruvian- and Ecuadorian-born voters living in the Connecticut 4th Congressional District. “They know that I understand the Hispanic community.”

Himes, who has referred to President George W. Bush’s immigration policy as “disastrous,” is geared to enact a comprehensive reform in the next Congress.

According to Himes, a comprehensive immigration reform is to include a “practical and humane approach to the 12 million undocumented immigrants who either entered (the U.S.) illegally or who overstayed their visas.”

“Law-abiding, hardworking, and tax-paying immigrants should be assessed a meaningful penalty for breaking our immigration laws, and should then be allowed to go to the “back of the line” for citizenship,” writes Himes on his campaign website.

Appealing to Latin American-born voters in the U.S., Himes strongly opposed Shays’ solution to the immigration crisis. Shays proposed a “blue card” program that would impose no penalty on illegal immigrants but, according to Himes, would “create a permanent immigrant worker underclass who would forever be denied the hope of citizenship.”

“A two-tiered society is not what our founding fathers had in mind, and is not in the long-term interests of our country,” Himes said.

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