Who is Shamaine Daniels? The Latina challenging Rep. Scott Perry for his seat in Congress
The first Latina to ever sit on Harrisburg’s City Council won the Democratic primary for PA’s 10th Congressional District.
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U.S. Rep. Scott Perry has served in Congress for five consecutive terms from Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District, spanning Dauphin, Cumberland and York counties, and hopes to win a sixth term in 2022.
But after dispatching moderate Democrats in previous elections, Perry could face his stiffest competition to date in Harrisburg City Councilmember Shamaine Daniels, who emerged victorious in Tuesday’s primary against retired Army Officer Rick Coplen.
Daniels was the first Latina ever elected to sit on Harrisburg’s City Council in 2013, and has a long history of fighting for marginalized communities across the Commonwealth as an immigration lawyer.
She was born in Tucupita, the capital of Venezuela’s Delta Amacuro in the country’s Northeast, but grew up in Ciudad Guayana, and moved to the U.S. when she was young. She went to high school in Philadelphia and then attended college at West Chester University. Her law degree came after a stint at the University of Cincinnati.
In a profile for La Voz Latina Central, Daniels said her motivation to enter the immigration law field was because of her own experience. She wasn't a U.S. citizen upon graduation from college, and as a result, couldn't sit for the Foreign Service Officers test for a potential job at the State Department.
After graduation, Daniels made a name for herself first in Hazleton, PA, fighting back against a notoriously anti-immigrant ordinance that banned landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants supported by then-Mayor Lou Barletta.
The town and subsequent legal battle over the ordinance made national headlines, and Daniels eventually succeeded in getting a U.S. District Court Judge to rule it unconstitutional in 2007. The Supreme Court also declined to take up a later challenge in 2014.
When speaking to Harrisburg’s Patriot-News, Daniels said her upcoming campaign against Perry “is a difficult race to win,” but “not unwinnable.”
Her strategy is to use the newly-redistricted District 10 to her advantage. When Perry was first elected, Harrisburg was the only urban center in the district. This time around, both Harrisburg and York are part of the district with populations that often have poor turnout.
While past challengers for Perry have tried to take moderate voters away from him as a pathway to victory, Daniels is betting on the rarely-engaged voters in those urban centers to show out in force and put her over the top.
If successful, she would be the first Latino ever elected to Congress from Pennsylvania.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story stated that Daniels was undocumented. She has never been undocumented, just not a citizen at one time, and it affected her ability to take the Foreign Officers Test at the State Department upon graduation from college. The story has been updated to reflect changes.