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poem and petition: Tam Tran

May 22, 2010

The Honorable Sheldon Whitehouse

United States Senate

170 Westminster Street 
Suite 1100 
Providence, RI 02903

May 24, 2010 

Dear Senator Whitehouse: 

We are writing to request your help and support in introducing a private bill to award posthumous citizenship to immigration activist and Brown University graduate student Tam Tran, 27, who passed away in a car accident last week.  Furthermore, we appeal for your help in adjusting the immigration status of her family as an honor to Tam’s life and work on behalf of undocumented immigrant students.   

Tam was a daughter and a sister.  She was born in Germany to Vietnamese refugee parents who fought Communism in their country.  When Tam was six years old, the family moved to the United States.  They requested asylum here, but their application remains in limbo.  Tam and her family are stateless: Germany will not accept them back because they are not of German origin and return to Vietnam is impossible given the family’s anti-communist history.     

A budding scholar, Tam was pursuing her Ph.D. in the Department of American Civilization at Brown University at the time of her death.  Her dissertation planned to merge historical inquiry with participant observation, documenting the trajectory and power of student politics over the last half-century.  

Tam Tran was a dedicated and fearless leader for immigrant rights.  She advocated on behalf of undocumented immigrant youth in search of education.  As an undergraduate at the University of California, Los Angeles, she worked with fellow undocumented and documented students to extend public funding to undocumented students.  On May 18, 2007, Tam took the courageous step of testifying in Congress in support of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (The “DREAM Act”), a bill that would provide pathways to citizenship by granting a six year conditional permanent legal residency to undocumented students who met certain criteria.  Although the bill failed, Tam continued to work for its passage and was a tireless activist until the day of her untimely death. 

Most of all, Tam embodied true citizenship.  She overcame significant obstacles, embraced an American identity, and fought for justice and equality for all just as the Founding Fathers did.  As she said before Congress, “the truth is, I am culturally an American…I consider myself a Southern Californian. I grew up watching Speed Racer and Mighty Mouse every Saturday morning.” But ultimately, although not deportable, she was denied formal legal citizenship, which would bring her full rights and security.  

Following her testimony before Congress, her family was detained by ICE.  They were released only after Representative Zoe Lofgren (CA) who worked with Tam and had encouraged her to testify before Congress, intervened on their behalf.  There is real fear that without Tam’s presence and protection, the family is now in danger of detention and possibly deportation.   Tam’s prominence and public activism acted as a shield for the entire family.  Her death leaves them vulnerable to ICE intimidation and arrest.  We ask you to introduce a private bill that will adjust the immigration status of the Tran family and protect them from detention and deportation. 

Furthermore, in honor to Tam, her fearless activism and her dreams of immigrant civil rights, we ask that you help award her American citizenship posthumously.  Tam embodied everything that this country expects of its citizens: virtue, love of country, civic engagement, community activism and support for each other.  There is no doubt that had she lived, her courage and tireless work in support of the DREAM Act would have allowed her to receive American citizenship one day.  Now in death, it is up to you to make her dream come true and celebrate “the best German export since Mercedes-Benz.” 

We look forward to hearing from you and we are ready to support this effort in any way required.  Should there be any additional information that you need, please do contact Matt Garcia at (401) 261-8753 or at 

Thanking you for your consideration, 

Yours sincerely,

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Matt Garcia, Ph.D.  Alexandra Filindra, Ph.D.  Kara Cebulko, Ph.D.

Associate Professor  Fellow     Assistant Professor

American Civilization  Public Policy    Sociology

Brown University  Brown University   Providence College 

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Poem written by Tam’s Brother L. Tran for his sister Tam in memoriam 

We cannot control when life ends

But we are here today, family and friends

To celebrate the girl behind the lens

To celebrate the best German export since Mercedes-Benz

We’re celebrating Tam Tran, I’m sure you have seen her

It is physically possible to not love this active DREAMer?

The one with her hair pushed back behind her ears

The one filled with such bright ideas

She did it without financial aid, and without an edge

When she graduated from Santa Ana College

Since higher education was what she was pursuing

It all made sense when she became a UCLA Bruin

And that’s how she earned her cap and gown

But then she had to go “Underground at Brown”

Cause she was told by immigration agents that her time here was rented

But that’s how it is when you are undocumented

So she went nationwide for the world to see

Causing all kinds of trouble in Washington, DC

With all her soul, she fought so hard

And all she ever wanted was a green card

Her mission is complete, she should take a bow

Because she doesn’t need one where she is right now

She battled so intensely, like a true samurai

The difference is she’s only “Armed with a Camera”

Pass the DREAM Act! How sweet the sound

Because right now, it is in the “Lost and Found”

What a tremendous life, I know we’ll all miss her

I will dedicate my life to my only sister


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