Yale Grad Helps Other Immigrants Find a Legal Path to Stay in the U.S.

In her work as a volunteer advocate, Hong Tran has been helping immigrants get their American citizenship for three years now. Now the Yale grad hopes that she’ll soon become a citizen herself.

“I’m hoping to be a citizen in a couple of years. I’m very excited for that day when I can go to vote,” said 26-year-old Tran, who immigrated to the United States from Vietnam in 2010.

Raised in a Saigon neighborhood that was teeming with crime and crushing poverty, Tran’s parents were among the millions that moved to the city as a result of the the Vietnam war.

To make ends meet, her mother and father rolled cigarettes for a wage. Her mother also eked out a living administering insulin injections to her neighbors, first in their homes and then in clinics, she said.

“Growing up was very rough. Drugs were a big problem,” Tran said. “Walking home from school, I would pick my way among littered syringes on the ground.”

When she was 14, Tran received a full scholarship to attend high school in Singapore. It meant a difficult move away from her parents, but Tran — who described herself as a mediocre student then — recognized that the scholarship was her best chance of escaping poverty.

Her father urged her to apply to Harvard or Yale when the time came. Aware of the competitive admissions landscape of the two Ivy League schools, she thought he was being wildly unrealistic. “I was like, ‘Do you know how hard it is? I don’t think so,'” she said.

Tragically, her father died soon after she was accepted into the high school in Singapore. Tran threw herself into her studies and when the time came, she applied to Yale and gained early admission.

She moved to the U.S. in 2010 and graduated with a bachelors degree in religious studies from Yale in 2014. After graduation, Tran — who speaks seven languages — started working with non-profits in New York and Detroit, helping immigrants facing deportation and those seeking permanent residency or citizenship.

In April, Tran received the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, which gives recipients up to $90,000 toward the graduate education of immigrants or children of immigrants. In the fall, she will return to Yale to study immigration law.

This is Tran’s American Success Story.

By Octavio Blanco for CNN Money
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