Smits was the eldest of three children born to Emelina and Cornelis Smits.He attended Thomas Jefferson High School, where he was both an athlete and actor of considerable talent. During his five-plus seasons on the show, the courtroom drama was a critical and commercial success.
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From 2012 to 2014, he joined the main cast of Sons of Anarchy as Nero Padilla.
An early role played by Smits was that of Eddie Rivera in the two-hour series premiere of Miami Vice, in 1984.
Smits has also donated to several other organizations, including the Red Cross, New York Cares, and Stand up to Cancer.
In addition, he regularly donates to HIV and AIDS treatment and to help human rights around the world.
He received several Emmy nominations for his performance on the series and was reunited with his former co-star Dennis Franz at the 2016 Emmy Awards presentation. In 1999, Smits received the HOLA Award for Excellence from the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA).
Smits was scheduled to host the 2001 Latin Grammy Awards broadcast on September 11, 2001.In the episode, he portrayed Sonny Crockett's original partner, who was killed in a sting gone wrong. Additionally, Smits played a repairman on Pee-wee's Playhouse, and he starred in the multigenerational story of a Chicano family in the film My Family (1995), alongside Edward James Olmos and Jennifer Lopez.Beginning in 1986, Smits played Victor Sifuentes in the first five seasons of the long-running NBC television Steven Bochco legal drama L. One of Smits's most acclaimed roles was that of Detective Bobby Simone on the ABC television program NYPD Blue, in which he starred from 1994 to 1998.Smits played the role of Congressman Matt Santos of Houston, Texas, in the final two seasons of the NBC television drama The West Wing, joining fellow L. He builds a relationship with Gemma Teller Morrow (Katey Sagal) and forms an alliance and mentorship with Gemma's son, the central character Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam).In the mid-1980s, Smits acted in numerous performances at the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, New York, Cornell's summer repertory program.They have two children, Taina (born in 1973) and Joaquin (born in 1983).