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Tessa Lena

Tessa Lena is a Russian-born New Yorker and an American citizen who was arrested as an immigrant during the Bush administration and spent nearly a month in jail. While under arrest, Tessa experienced cruel and degrading treatment and was questioned by the FBI who tried to pressure her into “cooperating.” She believes that the real reason for her arrest was a complaint about her ‘espionage’ by an abusive ex who wanted her deported and thus unable to expose his abuse. Tessa was let out on bail and was eventually able to prove in immigration court that she was a victim of domestic abuse, and that her arrest was a setup.  She has never received any apology, and today, she is keen on letting the world know that abuse of immigrants and paranoia toward Russians are nothing new. 

Dirty immigrants and Russian spies: The great fun of being doubly suspicious

Read Tessa Lena's Story of Being in Jail as an ImmigrantTessa Lena's Full Bio

What You Will Learn

– Why it is dangerous to assume that poor treatment of immigrants is new

– How your thinking changes once you are in handcuffs and without rights

– What you know once you’ve survived being on the receiving end of the stick

– Why hysteria in the media makes things worse for everybody

– Why justice for immigrants is still largely about money: first-hand experience

– What most people ‘on the ground’ really argue about when they go at each other’s throats over immigration

– How to start bridging the gap between the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ on immigration

– Why it is critical to regularly talk to those who don’t agree with you

– How not to be anxious when your screen tells you that the world is ending

Plus, on a lighter note:

– How come all the Russian spies have red hair?!!!

Questions I Get

– So Tessa, why do you feel like now is finally a good time to talk about the story of your arrest?

– If you were treated unfairly, why didn’t you sue?

– You mention that as you were facing your ordeal, you received many heartfelt letters of support from your then co-workers. Do you think that if it happened today, same co-workers would feel safe standing up for you after learning that you, a Russian, were being questioned by the FBI?

– You seem happy. Were you able to fully recover after that nightmare?

– As a Russian immigrant, how do you feel about today’s collective outrage over both immigration issues and Russians?

– In your opinion, what is the biggest difference between the situation in America then and now?

– So why do you think it’s important to bridge that gap between the left and the right on immigration – and most importantly, where do we start?

– If there were one thing that you would want non-immigrant Americans to know about immigrants to the U.S., what would it be?


Tessa Lena is a charismatic speaker with a powerful story. Whether she is talking about serious topics or entertaining, she has a gift of captivating the audience immediately and keeping them engaged.

– Eric Goodman, Educator / Founder of the Spectacle Show



Then and Now

Excerpt from ‘Lena,’ documentary by Steven Tod (2006)


Numbers, numbers, numbers

Human Beings in the U.S. Illegally

job vacancies in the U.S.

jobs might be lost to automation in the U.S. by 2030

jobs on the way out thanks to Amazon alone

For Lovers of Data, Here is Your Data

I am not a dry analyst but a creative peasant: I believe my eyes, and my eyes only. In my circles, most economic hardship and loss of income happen not because of illegal immigrants but because of the unbalanced business models that quickly enrich companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Spotify – at the expense of we the people. But let’s debate!


The numbers came from here, here, here, and here.

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