Episode 60. Crossing the Borderlands of America’s Immigration

Brenda Piñero

“I do consider Puerto Rico a borderland of the United States,” says Brenda Piñero of her homeland.

Brenda left the island—an American territory rather than a state—after getting her law degree at the University of Puerto Rico. But she could not stay away from borderlands. She’s now an attorney who is part of a pro bono asylum representation project based in Harlingen, Texas. The border with Mexico is a scant 28 miles away.

Brenda works with a large population of detained immigrants, both adults and unaccompanied children. She crosses effortlessly throughout the day from Spanish to English, English to Spanish; she’s spoken both languages since she was a child. She sees America’s immigration issue through a lens few others have: as a US citizen who, nevertheless, at times feels apart from the US. She can empathize with her clients, who so desperately wish to swap that borderland for a new homeland.

In this episode, Brenda talks candidly with Steve about what it’s like to work as an immigration attorney in South Texas, crossing emotionally from stories that are heartbreaking to those that are heartwarming. Sometimes they’re both—like her story of the 14-year-old Honduran boy and the psalm.

Immigration is America’s perpetual narrative, both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Brenda’s story takes us to its complex, volatile borderland and leaves us, if only for a few minutes, to experience it for ourselves.

Brenda as child with her mom, Angelina Carrasquillo Rodriguez. Her mother figured large and lovingly in Brenda’s childhood in their native Puerto Rico.

Brenda’s mom gives her a congratulatory kiss at her graduation from kindergarten. Years later, Brenda would graduate magna cum laude with a degree in law.


Listen on Apple Podcasts here: America the Bilingual by Steve Leveen; on Spotify; or wherever you listen to your podcasts.


Thanks to members of the America the Bilingual Project team for this episode: Fernando Hernández and Luis Raúl López of the Mexican production house Esto No Es Radio, which provides sound design and mixing; Mim Harrison, editorial director of the Project, who also wrote and directed this episode; and Karla Hernandez at Daruma Tech, who manages our website.

Music selections in this episode include “Annabelle’s Theme,” “Heart of the Old Country,” “Lonesome Journey,” “Mexican Plaza,” and “Soaring Hawk,” all by John Bartmann and used with a Creative Commons Attribution License; and “Quasi Motion” by Kevin MacLeod, also used with a Creative Commons Attribution License.

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