April 19, 2018
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Killed students sought rights for immigrants

Contributed | BDN
Contributed | BDN
Stains and oil-absorbing material marks the spot on Route 3 in Trenton where a two-car accident occurred early Saturday morning, resulting in the deaths of two people. The women who died, Tam Ngoc Tran, 27, of Garden Grove, Calif., and Cinthya Nathalie Felix Perez, 26, of Los Angeles, were passengers in a car headed toward Mount Desert Island that was struck head-on by a pickup truck at about 1 a.m. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY BILL TROTTER
By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff

TRENTON, Maine — Fatal accidents are always tragic.

One moment, a person is traveling down the road with purpose, their life and destination ahead of them. In the next, something goes wrong, wrecking the vehicle and the lives that it carried from one place to the next.

But for two young women who died early Saturday in an accident on Route 3, their deaths marked the end of winding and intersecting lifetimes of struggle to overcome obstacles that many never face.

Tam Ngoc Tran, 27, and Cinthya Nathalie Felix Perez, 26, were immigrants who not only had to face the challenges of being undocumented aliens in the land they called home, but they were meeting those challenges, and then some.

Tran and Perez were killed just after 1 a.m. Saturday when a 2000 Ford pickup truck driven by Jon Dow, 23, of Hampden crossed the centerline and collided head-on with a 2002 Toyota Corolla driven by Heather Lee, 28, of Providence, R.I., according to police. Tran and Perez were passengers in the car being driven by Lee.

Lee and Dow were treated at Maine Coast Memorial Hospital in Ellsworth and then released.

Police are still investigating the accident and examining the vehicles that were both destroyed, according Maine State Police Lt. Chris Coleman. Blood test results on the drivers are not expected to be complete for “a couple of weeks,” Coleman said Monday.

Despite their lack of paperwork establishing them as American citizens, Tran and Perez had graduated from University of California, Los Angeles, and were pursuing graduate studies at Ivy League schools, Tran at Brown University in Providence, R.I., and Felix-Perez at Columbia in New York City.

Tran, who was born in Germany and whose parents are from Vietnam, testified before Congress in 2007 in favor of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, which was aimed at helping undocumented immigrants under the age of 18 attain citizenship through college-level educational achievement or through education and military service, according to the Boston Globe.

After her testimony, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials raided her family’s home in Garden Grove, Calif., prompting criticism of the agency by U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., according to USA Today.

LAObserved, a news website, has reported that Perez was the first undocumented student admitted to Columbia’s School of Public Health. The Boston Globe reported that Perez moved with her family to the U.S. from Sinaloa, Mexico, when she was 15 years old.

Phil Hampton, assistant director of UCLA’s office of media relations, said the two women had “overcome considerable hurdles” to attend and then graduate from UCLA, Tran in 2006 and Perez in 2007. He said a memorial service for the women has been planned at UCLA for 3 p.m. Monday, Pacific time.

“Both were known to be advocates for support for undocumented immigrant students,” Hampton said. “In many ways, they are emblematic of the value UCLA stands for. They wanted nothing more than to pursue and earn their degrees.”

UCLA has nearly 27,000 undergraduate students. Of those, about 200 of them are undocumented, Hampton said.

Brown University President Ruth Simmons issued a statement Sunday mourning Tran’s death. Lee also is a Brown student, Simmons indicated.

Tran was a “political activist and filmmaker” who made a “great difference” to people who knew her, Simmons wrote in the statement.

“During her time on campus, she distinguished herself for her passion to tell the story of immigrant young people,” Simmons said.

A video of Tran speaking last year before the American Sociological Association can be seen on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoAfCzA_qHQ.

A video tribute to the two women can be viewed on Youtube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVjPTol9FeA.

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