Pramila Jayapal, a state senator and nationally known immigrant-rights advocate, has entered the race to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott.

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State Sen. Pramila Jayapal, a national leader among immigrant-rights advocates, has added her name to the growing list of contenders to succeed retiring 14-term U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott.

Jayapal, D-Seattle, announced her candidacy to a cheering crowd of supporters Thursday afternoon at Seattle Central College in a speech that traced her own life as an immigrant, activist and elected official.

She said she’ll fight to raise the minimum wage, ensure debt-free college, expand social programs and oppose deportations that break up immigrant families — while also speaking out against a tide of anti-foreigner rhetoric.

“People like Donald Trump are whipping up hate and fear across the country, resulting in a rise of anti-Muslim violence,” she said. Jayapal said her supporters share a belief that “America’s greatest strength is in our diversity.”

Although Jayapal does not now live in the 7th District, that is not a barrier to her seeking or holding the office.

The U.S. Constitution merely requires that a U.S. representative be at least 25 years old, a citizen for at least seven years, and a resident of the state he or she is representing.

Pramila Jayapal (Tyrone Turner)
Pramila Jayapal (Tyrone Turner)

In Jayapal’s case, she lives about 25 blocks south of the 7th District boundary, in the 9th Congressional District represented by U.S. Rep. Adam Smith. Jayapal noted that she’s lived all over Seattle and that her home was in the 7th District until a redistricting panel redrew political maps a few years ago. She said she’ll move into the 7th District if elected.

Dave Ammons, a spokesman for Secretary of State Kim Wyman, said in an email it’s “pretty unusual” in Washington for candidates to run for seats outside of their own districts.

“Carpetbagging is the one obvious line of campaign attacks, but in a case of near proximity, less so,” he said.

Jayapal was elected to the state Senate in 2014 to represent the 37th Legislative District of southeast Seattle and Renton.

While relatively new to elected office, Jayapal has been a respected activist and force in local politics for years.

She founded OneAmerica, the immigrant-rights advocacy group formerly called Hate Free Zone, after concerns over anti-immigrant backlash following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. She noted Thursday that McDermott had supported her in that work.

Born in India, Jayapal moved to American at the age of 16 to attend Georgetown University. She studied business and was as an investment banker before deciding to pursue more meaningful work managing loans to women’s health programs in developing countries. She became a U.S. citizen in 2000.

Jayapal joins two other local elected Democrats who have already entered the race.

State Rep. Brady Walkinshaw, D-Seattle, jumped into the race in December, before McDermott’s retirement announcement.

And on Wednesday, Metropolitan King County Council Chairman Joe McDermott — who is not related to Jim McDermott — announced his candidacy.

The solidly liberal 7th District includes most of Seattle, Vashon Island, Burien, Edmonds and Shoreline.