CHARLOTTE, N.C. Though she can’t yet vote, 17-year-old Loan Tran, a senior at Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology, has fought for immigrant rights for youth for more than three years.
Tran is a founding member of “United 4 the Dream,” a youth immigrant-rights group in Charlotte started in 2010 to win support for the DREAM Act from U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat from Greensboro. The controversial legislation would legalize potentially hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people who were brought here as children and must show their good citizenship by attending college or serving in the military.
As she spent more time with the group in meetings, seminars and rallies, Tran – a documented immigrant from Vietnam – said she noticed the drastic difference between her life and those of her undocumented friends, many of whom came to the U.S. to escape persecution and foundering economies in their home countries.
One of the founders of U4TD is an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala who grew up in gang violence and government chaos and spent his 14th birthday walking through the desert, trying to escape. His birthday cake was made from sand.
“The reality was, he didn’t want to leave,” Tran said. “He didn’t want to leave his family. He didn’t want to leave his homeland. But he had to or else he would have died.”
So far, U4TD has helped more than 100 undocumented immigrants get into college – most on full or partial scholarships. The activists meet with students’ parents, offer SAT prep and assist with college and scholarship applications.
“We couldn’t wait around for the DREAM Act to pass,” Tran said. “I have a responsibility to give back to this world in a way that will make it fairer and more just for the people I care about and the people who live with struggles daily.”