Born in Chennai, India, to an Indian family and was raised in Indonesia and Singapore, Pramila Jayapal became the first Indian-American woman to serve in the United States House of Representatives in 2016.
In 1982 and at the age of 16, she immigrated to the United States to attend college. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and an MBA from Northwestern University.
Jayapal became a U.S. citizen in 2000. Before entering electoral politics she founded the Hate Free Zone (now known as OneAmerica), an advocacy group for immigrants, and campaigned for the rights of immigrants, women, and people of colour. The group successfully sued the Bush Administration’s Immigration and Naturalization Services to prevent the deportation of over 4,000 Somalis across the country. Jayapal stepped down from her leadership position in May 2012, and in 2013 she was recognized by the White House as a “Champion of Change.”
She served on the Mayoral Advisory Committee that negotiated Seattle’s $15 minimum wage and co-chaired the Mayor’s police chief search committee, which resulted in the unanimous selection of the city’s first woman police chief.
After State Senator Adam Kline announced his retirement in early 2014, Jayapal entered the race to succeed him. She was endorsed by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, and won more than 51% of the vote in the August 5 primary, out of a field of six candidates. She went on to defeat fellow Democrat Louis Watanabe in November 2014.
In the Washington State Senate, Jayapal was the primary sponsor of SB 5863, which directs the Washington State Department of Transportation to administer a pre-apprenticeship program targeting women and people of color; the bill passed into law in July 2015. She co-sponsored a bill to test and track thousands of police department rape kits. Over her two-year tenure in Olympia, Jayapal was rated “in the bottom 98% of legislators in the WA Senate” by FiscalNote, which analyzes the ability of legislators to advance sponsored legislation.
In January 2016, Jayapal declared her candidacy for Congress in Washington’s 7th congressional district, after Congressman Jim McDermott announced his retirement. In April, she received an endorsement from Bernie Sanders. On August 2, 2016, Jayapal finished first in the top-two primary, alongside state representative Brady Walkinshaw, also a Democrat. She advanced to the general election in November and defeated Walkinshaw with 56 percent of the vote.
Pramila Jayapal currently serves as the U.S. Representative for Washington’s 7th congressional district, which encompasses most of Seattle as well as outlying parts of King County. As a member of the Democratic Party, she represented the 37th legislative district in the Washington State Senate from 2015 to 2017. She is the first Indian-American woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, the first woman to represent the 7th District in Congress, and the first Asian-American to represent Washington in Congress.
She is the author of Pilgrimage: One Woman’s Return to a Changing India, published in March 2000, and currently lives in the West Seattle neighborhood of Seattle with her husband Steve.