Serrano's district is one of the smallest in the country geographically consisting of a few miles of the heavily urbanized and populated South Bronx in New York City. His district is also one of the most densely populated and one of the few majority Hispanic districts in the country. Yankee Stadium is in his district. In addition to José Marco, Serrano has four other children.
Serrano was born in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. At the age of seven, Serrano was taken by his family to The Bronx. Serrano went to high school and then Lehman College for his undergraduate degree. He served in the United States Army medical corps from 1964 to 1966.
Serrano was elected to the New York state Assembly in 1974 as a Democrat, where he served as chairman of the Consumer Affairs Committee and, subsequently, the Education Committee.
House of Representatives
In 1990, Serrano won a special election for a House of Representatives seat vacated by resigning Congressman Robert García and has thereafter been reelected, usually by over 90 percent of the vote, in what is considered one of the safest seats in Congress.
Serrano is an advocate of ending the trade embargo on Cuba and for English Plus, which would encourage Americans to become bilingual. He has consistently supported initiatives to resolve Puerto Rico's political status problem, including the 1998 Young bill, which he coauthored, and the Dec. 22, 2005 report of the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Political Status, which recommends that Congress provide an opportunity for residents in Puerto Rico to vote for or against its current status, which the report describes as an unincorporated U.S. territory and Serrano describes as a U.S. colony. Serrano has filed a bill, HR 900, with Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño, which has been cosponsored by 129 other Democratic and Republican members of Congress to authorize such a referendum by 2009.
A member of the Progressive Caucus, he is widely regarded as one of the most liberal members of Congress. He has been questioned about his pork barrel spending by some fiscal conservative members of Congress. Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake once said of Serrano's $150,000 earmark to repair the roof at the city-owned Arthur Avenue Market (an historic indoor produce and prepared food market in the Bronx's "Little Italy"), "I would argue this is one cannoli the taxpayer doesn’t want to take a bite of." Serrano replied to Flake: "The more you get up on these, Sir, the more I realize that you do not know what you are talking about. I make no excuses about the fact that I earmark dollars to go in the poorest congressional district in the nation, which is situated in the richest city on earth."
On November 18, 2005, he was one of three votes in favor of immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. The other two votes were from Cynthia McKinney of Georgia and Robert Wexler of Florida.
In 2005, Serrano introduced a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to repeal the 22nd Amendment, thereby removing the limitation on the number of terms an individual may serve as president. It was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Serrano has paid attention to local environmental issues in New York, with a particular focus on constructing greenways, acquiring parklands, and cleaning up the Bronx River, which runs through his district. Recently a beaver was discovered swimming in the river for the first time in 200 years, something seen as a testament to his efforts. In 2007, he engineered the purchase of the last privately-owned island in NY harbor--South Brother Island--for preservation in perpetuity by the City of New York as a wildlife refuge for rare shorebirds.
Actions and committees
Congressman Serrano has been a critic of the Bush administration's approach to handling President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. In 2005, while the Venezuelan President was in New York City speaking before the United Nations, the congressman invited him to his district to speak to his constituency.
Serrano is one of three New York-area congressmen on the House Appropriations Committee, the others being Nita Lowey of the 18th District and Steve Rothman of New Jersey's 9th congressional district (which abuts New York City). He is the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services. As chairman, he successfully engineered the inclusion of language in the 2007 omnibus spending bill that guarantees the extension of the 50 State Quarters program to include the minting of 6 additional quarters to honor the District of Columbia and the 5 United States territories, including Serrano's native Puerto Rico.
Serrano has also been an advocate for Puerto Ricans under FBI prosecution. In May of 2000 he brokered an agreement with then FBI Director Louis Freeh, then Puerto Rican Independence Party senator Manuel Rodríguez Orellana and then Puerto Rico Senate Federal Affairs Committee chairman Kenneth McClintock, the islands' current Senate President, that has resulted in the release of nearly 100,000 pages of previously secret FBI files on Puerto Rican political activists.