WASHINGTON, D.C. — Bogotá-born and raised, Juan Daniel Pachón Silva escaped the civil war in Colombia not a moment too soon.
“My asylum interview in Miami was on September 12, 2001,” Pachón recalled in a recess week interview with Latino Rebels under the Capitol dome. “My family had zero expectations that we were going to be allowed in but the day after the terrorist attacks, they allowed the immigration courts to open up for a couple of hours in the morning for interviews. My family was among those interviewed. We were among the last families they let in.”
Within a year of Pachón’s asylum in the United States, Congress upended federal immigration law with the Homeland Security Act, making it much more restrictive for asylum-seeking families like Pachón’s to gain entry into the United States.
“Everything changed after 9-11,” said Pachón, who settled in Tampa Bay, Florida, the state where he attended college and was eventually selected by Google for a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) fellowship that brought him to Washington, D.C. Within a year, Pachón was hired as a deputy press secretary in the office of then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).
José Parra was his boss.
As the only office in the Senate or House at the time to have communications staffers focused specifically on Latino media, Parra and his aides Pachón and Jorge Silva had to deliver a bilingual Congressional press strategy for Leader Reid.
“That led to a lot of face time with the folks at Univision and Telemundo,” recalled Pachón, who was responsible for liaising in Spanish and English.
“When we worked together at Reid’s office, he offered not only sound advice from a tactical perspective, but also strategically,” Parra, now CEO of Prospero Latino, told Latino Rebels. “It’s usually either/or with a new press aide.”
Pachón left Reid’s team in 2013 to work for Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) to help lead the public relations campaign for the comprehensive immigration reform negotiations by the “Gang of 8.”
“Serving for the highest Latino member in Congress and the only Latino Democrat in the Senate offered me unbelievable opportunities,” Pachón said. “From being able to ensure Hispanic Americans have a voice in our nation’s legislative process, to being able to invite Jorge Ramos to New Jersey to tour the senator’s neighborhood and celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with the community, I don’t take the privileges I’ve been afforded lightly.”
In 2018, Menendez appointed Pachón to serve as communications director on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Menendez chairs.
“I like to think that being a foreigner on the Foreign Relations Committee is an asset,” Pachón said, “because I am able to speak with a worldview informed by slightly different life experiences than somebody born here.”
“His insights are superb,” chairman Menendez told Latino Rebels in the Senate tunnels earlier this month about his senior aide. “His ability to communicate my own agenda as the chairman and the committee’s agenda is extraordinary. With what we’ve been dealing with, with so many things breaking all at once, we’re very happy with his work.”
As part of the job, Pachón travels the world with Menendez.
“We just got back from Greece,” said Pachón, who has taken Congressional Delegations to Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Belgium, Mexico, and his homeland of Colombia in an official capacity for the committee.
“It’s always a personal point of pride to be able to go to Colombia on a work trip,” he added.
Back on Capitol Hill, Pachón is constantly interfacing with press from around the world seeking access to the committee’s work, hosting foreign dignitaries and holding hearings on specific policy areas abroad—which are often tied to the concerns of active diasporas in the United States.
The list of dignitaries Pachón has helped welcomed to Capitol Hill over the years includes every major head of state visiting Washington D.C., from the Presidents of Guatemala and Honduras to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon.
Pachón rarely gets starstruck anymore, he said, but smiled when he told Laitno Rebels about meeting Justice Sonia Sotomayor for the first time as a CHCI fellow when he moved to the nation’s capital to work in Congress.
“It was part of a program where they took fellows into the Supreme Court chambers where Justice Sotomayor was waiting to meet us and give us a pep talk,” Pachón recalled. “Her whole presentation focused on telling us how much she identified with young Latino youth in public service. She told us: ‘There are so few of us here. I’m rooting for you.’ That stuck with me.”
Such impact has been foundational for Pachón.
“Juan has grown into a consummate professional who knows the ins and outs of foreign policy and the delicate dance of diplomatic communications,” Parra said. “Senator Menendez and the committee are sure fortunate to have him.”
Pablo Manríquez is Latino Rebels’ Washington correspondent. He is an immigrant from Santiago de Chile with a political science degree from the University of Notre Dame. The Washington Post calls him “an Internet folk hero.” Twitter: @PabloReports.