An advocate for immigrant groups, especially after the September 11attacks, Pramila Jayapal, is an American politician serving as the U.S. representative from Washington’s 7th congressional district since 2017. “So many of the issues I’ve fought for have two things in common — they’re uphill battles and the right things to do. In Washington, D.C., I’m fighting for the same issues, but I’m counting on you to keep building this movement to get there,” she states. Jayapal founded the Hate Free Zone, an organization after the attacks. Media reports say, “Hate Free Zone registered new American citizens to vote and lobbied on immigration reform and related issues.” The organization even sued the Bush Administration’s Immigration and Naturalization Services to prevent the deportation of over 4,000 Somalis across the country. The White House recognized this organization as a “Champion of Change.”
Born into a Malayali family in Chennai, India, to Maya Jayapal, a writer, and Jayapal Menon, a marketing professional, Pramila Jayapal spent most of her childhood in Indonesia and Singapore. She moved to the U.S. in 1982, at age 16, to attend college and earned a B.A. from Georgetown University and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. “I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to live the American Dream, a dream that is out of reach for too many immigrants today. It is significant to me that I will now be in this position to move the needle better and recenter our broken immigration system around dignity, humanity, and justice. As I step into this role, I would also like to thank Representative Lofgren for her years of dedicated leadership on the Subcommittee.
I look forward to continuing to work with her,” she says on her website.
Politics was not always on Jayapal’s mind. In an interview with GreenAmerica, she said, “I never thought I’d go into politics, but after 15 years of working to get the things done we need to do, I realized it’s important to have people from the movement, people who can help organize in politics, and to get immigrants, women, and people of color in politics—people whom you don’t have to explain everything to.”
Commenting on the comprehensive immigration reform, Jayapal, says, “Our immigration policies should reflect our values of family, human dignity and work.” She also introduced the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act, which would phase out the use of for-profit immigrant prisons and drastically overhaul the nation’s immigrant incarceration system to eliminate human rights violations.”
Other than fighting for immigration rights, Jayapal also has long been a “champion for a $15 minimum wage, racial justice, the PRO Act to support workers’ rights, reproductive justice, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, and climate action so we finally transition to a 100% clean energy economy while prioritizing environmental justice and ensuring everyone has access to clean air, safe drinking water, and public lands,” states her website.
Pramila Jayapal won her Congressional election bid and became the first Indian-American woman in the House of Representatives in 2017. Before entering the House of Representatives, Jayapal served in the Washington State Senate from 2015 to January 2017.
Jayapal wants to make sure America continues to welcome refugees. She commented on her website saying,”America has always been a country that has welcomed refugees from around the world who are escaping economic, political and social turmoil. It is critically important for America to play in a world of global migration where more than one billion people are moving. We should accept refugees in numbers that reflect America’s international status in the world and history of compassion. We should also provide them the support and services needed here.”
According to an interview in GreenAmerica, Jayapal spoke about allowing Muslims and refugees into the U.S. and that this could make the country less safe or that they’re taking away jobs. She said, “All research shows that immigrants don’t take American jobs. They fill voids American workers don’t want to serve, particularly in low-wage jobs. If we were to raise wages, we would find more people wanting those jobs. We need to level the playing field so no one is being exploited and everyone has a fair shot.
As for security, this has been a red herring for a long time. The current ban doesn’t make us safer; it makes us less safe. I was talking to some very high people in the Iraqi government. There’s tremendous fear that we are playing right into the hands of people wishing to do us harm, who one official said were “clapping and gleeful” because [Trump’s executive order] helps to drive a wedge between the people they are trying to recruit and the U.S.”
She lives in West Seattle with her husband, Steve Williamson, a long-time labor leader. She is also the proud mother of a transgender child named Janak and the stepmother to Michael. She is the author of two books, Pilgrimage to India: A Woman Revisits Her Homeland and Use the Power You Have: A Brown Woman’s Guide to Politics and Political Change.