A progressive champion and first generation American
Pramila Jayapal 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.
A problem solver fighting for Washington State
Pramila is an experienced problem solver who never backs down from a tough fight. “I am relentless in finding solutions, organizing people and communities around those solutions, and moving to resolution,” she has said. In her first term as a state senator, she secured a multi-million dollar investment in job training for women and people of color, helped ensure access to contraceptives for Washington women on Medicaid, and she helped pass $15 minimum wage and paid sick days legislation in Seattle. “We need to support our youth so a life of crime is not their best option, and we need to support parents to ensure they have jobs and the ability to take care of their kids,” Pramila has said, and she will continue her fight to close the opportunity gap in Washington State. She is a pro-choice champion, and she continues to not just to defend women’s access to reproductive health care, but to increase it. As a leading immigration reform advocate, Pramila knows firsthand what’s at stake for women and families. She will continue to work tirelessly for commonsense immigration reform that treats women fairly and helps new Americans who are part of the fabric of our communities, workplaces, and schools achieve their full potential.
An historic victory
Our country had never before elected an Indian American woman to Congress, and Pramila is the first. As the only woman of color serving in the Washington state Senate, her service to Washington State women and families was an outstanding example of how leadership from diverse perspectives results in better policy. “We can't underestimate how important it is for young women of color to have role models to look to and think ‘I can do this too,’” Pramila has said. She has an impressive record of engaging thousands of new voters and building grassroots support, and with full strength of the EMILY’s List community she was able to get her progressive message out to voters in her district. WOMEN VOTE! supported Pramila in both the primary and general election, investing more than $500,000 on her behalf.