University News

Web update: Tam Tran GS killed in car accident

Heather Lee GS injured in Saturday crash in Maine

By
Senior Staff Writer
Sunday, May 16, 2010

A two-car crash early Saturday morning in Maine took the life of one Brown graduate student, Tam Ngoc Tran GS, and injured another, President Ruth Simmons announced in a campus-wide e-mail Sunday morning.

Tran, 27, one of two passengers in a car driven by Heather Lee GS, was airlifted from the scene to Eastern Maine Medical Center, where she died at 5:55 p.m. Saturday, wrote Maine State Police Sergeant Timothy Varney in an e-mail to The Herald. The other passenger, Cinthya Nathalie Felix Perez, 26, died at the scene.

At 1:20 a.m. Saturday, a Ford pick-up truck driven by Jon Dow, 23, of Hampden, Maine, crossed the center line of Maine’s Route 3 and struck the vehicle driven by Lee, 28, according to Varney.

Dow and Lee sustained only minor injuries and have been released from another hospital, according to Varney.

He also wrote that speed appears to be a factor in the cause of the accident, though the crash remains under investigation and is being reconstructed by the local sheriff’s department.

Tran, a second-year doctoral student in American civilization from Garden Grove, Calif., graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles in 2006 with a degree in American literature and culture.

During her years at UCLA and Brown, Tran — whose own citizenship status was in limbo — was an outspoken activist for immigration reform.

In 2008, Tran helped found the Brown Immigrants’ Rights Coalition to address challenges faced by undocumented students and other immigrants’ rights issues.

“We really would have had no direction if it weren’t for Tam,” said VyVy Trinh ’11, another co-founder of the group.

Tran’s father fled Vietnam by boat before she was born, and was rescued by the German navy, The Herald reported in 2009. Because Tran and her younger brother Thien were born in Germany, they hoped their aunt — who escaped at the same time as their father but acquired legal residence in the U.S. — could sponsor them for citizenship. But in 1997, they were denied political asylum, and in 2001, an immigration board ruled that though they could not return to Vietnam for risk of political persecution, they would have to be deported back to Germany. Germany has refused to grant them entry, leaving the family’s citizenship status in question.

In May of 2007, Tran testified before a House subcommittee on immigration. Tran explained to the legislators the benefits the proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act would have for undocumented students, such as herself, who have difficulty financing their educations. (Read Tran’s testimony here.) The bill, which ultimately failed to pass, would have provided undocumented immigrant children with a path to citizenship if they earn a high school degree and complete two years of college or military service.

“I hate filling out forms, especially the ones that limit me to checking off boxes for categories I don’t even identity with,” Tran told the committee. “Place of birth? Germany. But I’m not German. Ethnicity? I’m Vietnamese, but I’ve never been to Vietnam. However, these forms never ask me where I was raised or educated.”

Information about a memorial service for Tran will be shared with the Brown community in the coming week, Simmons wrote in her e-mail.

Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article implied that Heather Lee GS had been identified in President Ruth Simmons’ e-mail. In fact, that e-mail did not identify Lee.