Graduation photos of close friends Tam Tran (left) and Cynthia Felix were displayed at the memorial. (Photo by Nguoi Viet’s Tiffany Le)
Hundreds gathered to mourn the loss of Tam Tran and Cinthya Felix, the crowd of students and faculty members filling the auditorium in UCLA’s Moore Hall today.
Later in the afternoon, the State Senate adjourned in the memory of the two former Bruins, who had been tireless advocates for the DREAM Act, speaking out for undocumented students. The two best friends were killed last weekend in a Maine car accident.
After the Vietnam War, Tran’s father Tuan Ngoc Tran was imprisoned by the communist government in a reeducation camp. Upon his release, he and his wife fled the country by boat. They were rescued by a German ship, and resettled in that country where Tam Tran was born.
When Tran was 6 years old, the family moved to California, seeking political asylum, but their application was rejected. The family agreed to leave the U.S. but Germany wouldn’t take them back.
The ICE tried extraditing them to communist Vietnam, but a judge blocked that, so the family had been living from one “work permit” to another since Tran was a child.
Tran, together with her friend Felix, were activists for the DREAM Act, a law that would have allowed an undocumented student who had been in the country 5 years, graduated high school, and attended college or served in the military for 2 years, to apply for a green card.
Tran graduated from Santiago High School in Garden Grove, went to Santa Ana College, then transferred to UCLA where she graduated with honors in American literature and culture.
In 2007, Tran testified in Congress in support of this law, and three days later the ICE raided her family home while she wasn’t there, and arrested Tran’s parents and younger brother Thien Tran.
The case cause a huge uproar. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren accused the ICE of intimidating a Congressional witness. The ICE said it wasn’t, that the raid was just routine.
The ICE, however, admitted that there were 324,000 cases like the Tran’s — subject to extradition but no place to send them to. Which prompted the family’s pro bono lawyer to ask, “Why the Tran family out of all these cases?”
At the time of the car accident, Tran was a Ph.D. student at Brown, and Felix was in the master’s program in public health at Columbia. Felix was born in Mexico and wanted to be a physician and help her community. That’s Tran to the left and Felix to the right, in the picture.
When the Bolsavik interviewed Tran in 2007, it struck him that the young woman did not fit the mold of a stereotypical activist. She was sweet, soft-spoken, and not at all gung-ho or angry — despite all that’s happening around her.
At the memorial, Tran’s brother Thien said his sister “spent her whole life helping others.” That did not surprise at all.