Born in India on September 21, 1965, Pramila Jayapal earned a BA in English Literature at Georgetown University in 1986, and an MBA in Marketing & Nonprofit Management at Northwestern University in 1990. She subsequently worked as a financial analyst with Paine Webber (1986-88), an intern with the Population and Community Development Association (1989), an account consultant with the Physio-Control Corporation (1990-91), a director with the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (1991-95), and the proprietor of Pramila Jayapal Consulting (1997-2001).
Jayapal became a U.S. citizen in 2000. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001, she founded – with assistance from Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott – an organization called Hate Free Zone (later renamed OneAmerica), to “address the backlash, hate crimes, and discrimination against immigrant communities of color, primarily Muslims, Arab Americans, East Africans, and South Asians.” Jayapal served as executive director of this group for 11 years.
In September 2011 the Center for Community Change (CCC) honored Jayapal with its “Champion Award,” by which the organization recognizes “heroes in the social justice movement.” Other Champion Award recipients that year included Frances Fox Piven, Raul Grijalva, and key leaders of the SEIU and Voces de la Frontera.
In 2012 Jayapal helped establish Seattle’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, whose stated mission is to improve the lives of newcomers to America.
From 2012-14, Jayapal served as a Distinguished Taconic Fellow with the Center for Community Change. In February 2013 she received a “White House Champion of Change” award from President Barack Obama.
In an August 9, 2015 editorial lamenting the “centuries of racism” that have plagued America, Jayapal wrote: “As a country, we still have not recognized or acknowledged what we have wrought and continue to inflict on black people. The bigger results are how black kids as young as two are being disciplined differently in their daycares and pre-k classes. That black people are routinely denied jobs that white people get with the same set of experiences and skills. That black people … continue to die at the hands of police, in domestic violence, on the streets. That black mothers must tell their children as young as seven or eight that they have to be careful about what pants or hoodies they wear or to not assert their rights if stopped. That this country supports an institutionalized form of racism called the criminal justice system that makes profit … on jailing black and brown people.” She also suggested that as recompense for historical wrongs, the U.S. government should pay “reparations for slavery” to black people.
From 2014-16, Jayapal served as a Democratic member of the Washington State Senate. In 2016 the voters of Washington’s 7th Congressional District elected her to the U.S. House of Representatives. Soon after taking office in January 2017, Jayapal became a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. That same year, she endorsed Keith Ellison for the post of DNC Chair.
Particularly outspoken on immigration-related matters, Jayapal in January 2018 published an op-ed in The Nation magazine defending the notion that new immigrants should be permitted to come to the U.S. because of their familial ties to immigrants already here, rather than because of whatever skills or merit they may possess. “Republican attempts to recharacterize this valuable system of family-based immigration as ‘chain migration’ are not just false,” she said. “They are rekindling a racist ideology that was present at the beginning of our immigration system.” Five months later, in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, Jayapal and approximately 575 fellow demonstrators were arrested for obstructing others in a public place as they protested what Jayapal characterized as President Donald Trump’s “cruel zero-tolerance policy” on immigration. That same year, Jayapal joined fellow Congressional Democrats Mark Pocan and Adriano Espaillat in introducing legislation that called for the dissolution of the Immigration & Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).
In her 2018 reelection bid, Jayapal’s campaign website pledged that she would continue to use her position as a legislator to “stand up to the climate change deniers in Congress” by “pushing to reduce carbon emissions,” “invest[ing] in alternative energies like solar and wind power,” and put[ting] an end to toxic fracking and deep water drilling.” The website also stated that Jayapal would fight to “re-enfranchise the more than two million ex-felons who are African-Americans and paid their debt to society”; “stop the systematic efforts to disenfranchise minority voters by requiring Ids” at polling places; and “fight for raising the federal minimum wage so that the disproportionate number of workers of color in low-wage jobs can be paid fairly for their work.”
In 2018 as well, Jayapal supported fellow Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez‘s so-called Green New Deal, environmental legislation designed to rapidly eliminate all fossil-fuel use from the U.S. economy, create a basic income program and a federal “living-wage” jobs guarantee, implement a government-run health care system, and replace free-market capitalism with a socialist economic framework.
In the Spring of 2018, Jayapal and Mark Pocan addressed a Democracy Alliance gathering titled “Building a Progressive Legislation Pipeline.”
That same year, Jayapal and fellow Democratic Representatives Keith Ellison and Debbie Dingell served as founding co-chairs of the Medicare For All Congressional Caucus, which advocates for the implementation of a government-run health care system.
In July 2018 – just a few weeks before Jayapal’s August 7 Democratic primary – 16 interns in her campaign office threatened to strike because they had not yet been paid them for their work. “The exploitative conditions of our labor,” the interns told Jayapal’s campaign staff in a letter, “differ so drastically from the supposed principles of this campaign that we can no longer, in good faith, continue our work without a critical reevaluation of the conditions of our compensation.” Later that month, Jayapal finally paid her interns the money they were owed.
In November 2018 Jayapal was re-elected to her second term in the office, winning 84 percent of the vote in defeating Republican Craig Keller. Her campaign was endorsed by Our Revolution, an organization run by former campaign workers and supporters of Bernie Sanders‘s 2016 presidential campaign.
In January 2019, Jayapal stated that President Trump’s “ultimate goal is … to make America pure in the sense of not having immigrants, not having folks of color here and shutting down every form of legal immigration.…” Trump’s policies, she said, were “deeply offensive” to the “soul” and “psyche” of “people of color” who “are seeking asylum [and] who can no longer can get in, even though it’s legal to seek asylum, and not just at a legal port of entry.”
In January 2020, shortly after President Trump had ordered the U.S. military to kill Qasem Soleimani — the longtime leader of the terrorist Quds Force division of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps — Jayapal emerged from a congressional classified briefing on the killing and stated: “President Trump recklessly assassinated Qasem Soleimani. He had no evidence of an imminent threat or attack, and we say that coming from a classified briefing where again, there was no raw evidence presented that there was an imminent threat.” Her remarks stood in contrast to a Pentagon statement that said: “General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.” The Pentagon also confirmed that Soleimani had approved the previous week’s violent attack against the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
On May 19, 2021, Jayapal spoke out against the state of Israel, which at the time was engaged in a military conflict with Hamas terrorists who had recently fired more than 3,000 rockets toward Israeli population centers, prompting Israel to respond by using precision-guided bombs to target Hamas weaponry and infrastructure in Gaza. “We condemn Hamas’ firing of those rockets, but I think you have to look at what prompted even that behavior,” said the congresswoman. “I think there was the continuing annexation that Israel has been undertaking, for years, actually…this has been a pattern of action from Israel that, frankly, has taken away the idea even of a two-state solution, has led to increased hopelessness from the Palestinian people.” She continued: “And I think what Hamas has done is — obviously we condemn that – but we have to look at the power balance here, or imbalance as it were, and we have to put more responsibility on Israel in maintaining peace in the region.”
At a September 20, 2021 party celebrating her own birthday, Jayapal, who had previously condemned people for not wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, did not wear a mask. Video footage of the event, which was posted on Instagram by fellow Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, showed Jayapal not only celebrating without a mask but also blowing out the birthday candles on her cake. When Jayapal had tested positive for coronavirus in early January 2021, she accused maskless Republicans of having infected her. “I just received a positive COVID-19 test result after being locked down in a secured room at the Capitol where several Republicans not only cruelly refused to wear a mask but recklessly mocked colleagues and staff who offered them one,” she tweeted at the time. “Only hours after Trump incited a deadly assault on our Capitol, many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic—creating a superspreader event ON TOP of a domestic terrorist attack.” Added Jayapal: “Any Member who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable for endangering our lives because of their selfish idiocy. I’m calling for every single Member who refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol to be fined and removed from the floor by the Sergeant at Arms.”
Jayapal believes that:
In addition to her aforementioned activities, Jayapal served a stint as co-chair of We Belong Together, a feminist organization promoting immigration reform, an end to deportations, and a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal aliens. She also has contributed a number of articles to ColorLines, a magazine with ties to the Freedom Road Socialist Organization.
Further Reading: “Pramila Jayapal” (Ballotpedia.org, Votesmart.org, Keywiki.org, OnTheIssues.org); “Guest Editorial: Why Saturday’s Bernie Sanders Rally Left Me Feeling Heartbroken” (by Pramila Jayapal, 8-9-2015); “Pramila Jayapal: ‘Chain Migration’ is a ‘Myth’” (TrevorLoudon.com, 1-24-2018); “House Democrat, Nearly 575 Others Arrested Protesting Border Policy Inside Senate Building” (Breitbart.com, 6-28-2018); “Ice-Breakers” (National Review, 7-26-2018); “Democratic Congresswoman Caves after Unpaid Re-Election Campaign Interns Threaten Strike” (Daily Caller, 7-26-2018); “Dem Rep. Jayapal: Trump Wants to Make America ‘Pure’ Again by Eliminating All Immigration of ‘Folks of Color’” (Breitbart.com, 1-11-2019); Pramila Jayapal’s Positions on Key Issues (OnTheIssues.org).