Pramila Jayapal is the U.S. Representative for Washington’s 7th congressional district. She immigrated to the United States from India by herself to attend college when she was 16 years old. Her parents, an engineer and a teacher, spent all the money they had to give her the best educational opportunities they could, and as a teenager she had only enough money to call them once a year. “It was a huge sacrifice and I have worked to make that sacrifice worthwhile,” Pramila has said. She earned her MBA and worked as a financial analyst before beginning her social justice career in international public health, running a $6 million loan fund for critical health projects.
Pramila was in India when her son Janak was born prematurely at only 26.5 weeks, and she stayed by his side in the hospital as her immigration status was threatened — “my most courageous act,” she has said. Unable to immediately convince authorities that she couldn’t leave her hospitalized son behind, she secured a special visa delaying her return through a connection with the State Department and became a U.S. citizen in 2001.
After 9/11, reports of violence against Sikhs and Muslims inspired Pramila to found an immigrant, civil, and human rights advocacy group. Under her leadership as executive director, OneAmerica grew from a one-woman volunteer operation to the largest immigrant advocacy organization in Washington State and a strong national force for justice. She helped lead one of the largest voter registration efforts in Washington State, helping over 23,000 new Americans register to vote. “I am an organizer and don’t have a give-up bone in my body!” Pramila has said.
She served as co-chair of We Belong Together, a campaign to mobilize women in support of commonsense immigration policies that will keep families together and empower women. Pramila worked with U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono to hold the first hearing in the history of the U.S. Senate on the effect of immigration policies on women, and the White House has honored her as a “Champion of Change.” She has served in the Washington state Senate, representing one of the most racially and economically diverse legislative districts in the country.