Making Family History: Rebecca Carranza ’26 Sees Humanity in the Work of the Law

A first-generation college student, Carranza leveraged the Liberal Arts Bridge program to spend her summer interning at an immigration law and advocacy group. For her, it’s about making an impact in the lives of those who need it most.

by Hayden Royster and Sabrina Hamor | October 2, 2023

When Saint Mary’s was established in 1863, its founder had first-generation students in mind. Joseph Alemany, San Francisco’s first archbishop, envisioned a college for the “children of Miners, Mechanics, and Agriculturists,” the working people of the fledgling state. 

According to the most recent data, around one in three Saint Mary’s students today are trailblazers, the first in their family to pursue a college degree. For many first-generation students—“First-Gens,” as they often refer to themselves—the journey to and through college brings unique struggles—and surprises. We regularly ask First-Gen Gaels to share, in their own words, their history, hopes, and advice for the next generation.

Today, we’re highlighting Rebecca Carranza ’26, an Ethnic Studies major. With support made possible through the Liberal Arts Bridge program, Carranza spent summer 2023 interning at East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, an immigration law and advocacy group in Berkeley.


A little about me

My parents immigrated from Nicaragua, and I grew up in Martinez, California. My mom always talks about how in Nicaragua, it’s very common, if you see anyone on the street, to help them out—give them money, feed them, clothe them. That's what my grandma did, and growing up, that’s all I saw my mom doing, helping other people. She would always tell me, “There’s a bigger reward than we can see. Maybe you won't see it in your lifetime, but future generations will.” So hearing that message all the time, I think, really drove me to go into something where I can give back or help others.

The road to Saint Mary’s

I'm going to be honest: I didn't even think I was going to go to college. It was always my goal, but I could never see myself here, because the process was really difficult. My school counselors weren’t supporting me, and my parents couldn’t help me because they don’t know English very well. So it was very much up to me to take charge of my schooling.

It was such a blessing, then, that one of my high school teachers knew someone from Saint Mary’s, which was one of my top three schools I was applying to. He connected me with them, and I was able to sit in on a Global Justice class with Patrizia Longo. Just hearing her mention the Lasallian core principles during her class and connecting it to real life, I remember thinking, “If this is what the school can offer me and what they’re teaching in their classrooms, I want to be a part of that.”

Rebecca Carranza seated on the chapel steps
As an intern at East Bay Sanctuary Covenant in Berkeley, Rebecca Carranza numerous helped asylum seekers obtain their work permits. / Photo by Francis Tatem

On East Bay Sanctuary 

I started thinking about going into immigration law very recently. It’s all I ever hear about at home, with family and friends. And I realized it’s something that really fires me up. So a family friend connected me with East Bay Sanctuary; their main focus is asylum law. It’s really cool, because they stay with their clients for 20 to 30 years, helping them apply for asylum, then residency, and eventually to become citizens.

I was mostly helping people get their work permits. Near the end of my internship, though, I was working with people under TPS, which means temporary protected status. That's given to people from countries that are at war, or where there’s been an earthquake or some big natural disaster. Those who need to re-register only have a 60-day period to renew TPS status. Thousands of people renew at the same time, and if you lose TPS, you can never get it back. Many low-income residents can’t afford the $495 renewal fee. There’s a fee waiver they can apply for, but those often get sent back for the smallest errors: “Why didn't you put that comma there?” That kind of thing. It’s like the system is set up so these people can fail. 

After sitting in on a Global Justice class, Rebecca Carranza was sold on Saint Mary's: “If this is what the school can offer me and what they’re teaching in their classrooms, I want to be a part of that.”

How LAB made it possible

When I first heard about the Liberal Arts Bridge program that supports internships, I thought it was perfect, especially since I'm such an involved person and I don't like having my summers empty. I like doing something that's going to contribute to my own academic success. A lot of times, though, if someone finds an internship, they decide not to do it because they have to work over the summer. But with LAB, you actually have the option because the program provides financial assistance. That brings a really big relief, especially for college students.

What she wishes more people understood about immigration

A lot of asylum seekers come into this country because of problems they cannot avoid. They deserve the same liberties as we do. Why should there be such a big division about human rights?

At East Bay Sanctuary, there was one client who lost their housing, so I connected them to a social worker while also getting them their work permit. It was just so much that they needed; I really wanted to do everything possible. Thankfully, I was able to get all the paperwork done. And I remember them coming into the office and saying, “Where’s Rebecca?” They gave me this big hug and started crying, and I wanted to cry, too. “Thank you so much,” they said. “I thought I was gonna be unhoused for a long time.” It’s just so gratifying when you can see that happen.

EXPLORE the LAB Program and its mission. 

LEARN MORE about Saint Mary’s High Potential Program, which has supported and sustained First-Gen students like Rebecca Carranza for over 50 years. 

READ MORE: Theatre Major Ka'Nayah Landers-Daniels on How the LAB Program Made Her Summer Possible

Hayden Royster is Staff Writer and Sabrina Hamor is Social Media & Digital Content Manager at the Office of Marketing and Communications. Write them.