On Thursday, a Democratic lawmaker fielded a somewhat awkward question while appearing on C-SPAN, and turned it into a straightforward and effective teaching moment. And if you haven't seen the footage already, you'll probably want to check it out, because it's that good ― this video of Rep. Pramila Jayapal answering whether she's a U.S. citizen is definitely worth your time.
Jayapal, 52, is the first-ever Indian-American to serve in the U.S. Congress, serving as the representative from Washington's seventh congressional district. She was first elected in 2016, and sworn into national office in 2017, following nearly two years serving in the Washington state senate.
While appearing on an episode of C-SPAN's long-running morning show Washington Journal, a Republican caller from Reno, Nevada asked Jayapal whether she was an American citizen ― a question, it seems safe to say, that would not be asked of a white lawmaker.
Jayapal answered affirmatively, noting that she couldn't be a sitting member of the House if she wasn't a U.S. citizen; while she was born in India, as The Hill details, she was naturalized in 2000, and has been living in America for more than 30 years. Then, making the most of the moment, she took the opportunity to segue into advocacy for immigration reform, commenting on how complicated and in need of reform the existing system is.
"Yes, absolutely, you have to be a U.S. citizen to be in Congress," Jayapal said, with a chuckle and a smile. "So, I'm a proud U.S. citizen, I became a citizen in 2000, I've actually lived in this country since I was 16 years old. And I'm not going to tell you my age, but I promise you it's a very long time."
Jayapal went on to explain that she traveled to the United States on a student visa, and that it took her 17 years to achieve citizenship, all while being married to a U.S. citizen and having a child with citizenship, too. This led her to describe the visa system as "broken," while acknowledging that her exact experience wasn't universal.
"The existing visa system, which is very broken. You know, we're talking about a DACA fix, but we need a whole fix for comprehensive immigration reform in general. That's something I've worked on for 15 years," Jayapal said. "Most of our immigration laws, and a lot of people watching this may not know this, have not been adjusted for decades."
"So it keeps getting tossed back and forth, because it's complicated," she continue. "There are a lot of pieces to the immigration system." She went on to list the employment visa system, the legalization of undocumented immigrants, and the family reunification system.
That last part is a process that President Donald Trump and the White House have been particularly vehement in condemning ― Trump refers to it as "chain migration," a term some pro-immigrant activists and organizations consider offensive and dehumanizing.
Basically, when posed with an awkward and potentially offensive question, Jayapal took the opportunity to answer it in a friendly yet firm fashion, then used the moment to advocate for immigration reform. And it's not the first time she's dealt with a contentious or potentially explosive moment during a C-SPAN appearance, either.
Last year, she responded to an anti-immigrant caller, attempting to explain to him that contrary to some longstanding conservative talking points, they actually contribute an enormous amount to American economy, and pay billions in taxes. Rather, she encouraged him to place the blame for an uncertain economy on mega-profitable corporations that aren't paying a greater tax burden, and have allowed wages to stagnate.
In short, there's no telling just yet when her next appearance on C-SPAN will happen. But based on recent examples, you probably won't want to miss that one, either.