Something I will never forget: me, in the back of an immigration van, handcuffed to two young Chinese girls who are crying at the top of their lungs, scared even more than I am. No English.

Me, playing tough, and the girls, wailing like crazy.

“I hate Chinese people. Why do they come here?”

These are the words the driver says, as he makes sure to drive rough so that our helpless, chained bodies hit the walls of the van.

Even in the heaviness of my fear, I feel horrible for the girls. They are hysterical, they don’t understand the language, and all of it is just absurd.

It doesn’t feel real. It cannot be happening to me.

It is happening to me.

Okay, so you want to know how I ended up in an immigration van?


My abusive lawyer ex made up a story about me being a Russian spy because he wanted to neutralize me. Or make me come back to him. Or both.

Yes, that actually happened.

‘If you don’t come back to me, you are in trouble,’ he said.

’They won’t believe you,’ he said. ‘You are a nobody. An immigrant. I am an attorney. I am an American.’

The bastard was right.

All it took was a complaint. Nobody checked the facts. The feds quietly canceled all of my visas except for the very first one, created an ‘illegal alien’ identity for me without my knowledge, and arrested me. Easy peasy.

A national threat, me.

You know what it feels like when four armed men walk into your downtown apartment, grab you by the hands, cuff you, and walk you out of your apartment as a criminal? It feels strange and humiliating.

People don’t know how exhausting the immigration process is.

As an immigrant fighting with teeth and claws for every set of papers, hopping from one visa to another, infinitely applying for something and infinitely waiting for something, you get used to excruciating uncertainty–you never know where you are going to be tomorrow, and you live in-between the worlds every second of your life–but being arrested is just another level of scary.

I’ve always envied the prepared refugees from my home country who had come to the U.S. with their papers preprocessed and their families together–who just settled in. They were gods to me. Gods. But I followed the rules. I followed the rules religiously. I was very legal. And there I was, in the back of a van, banging my head on the hard surface with each rough turn, and listening to the screams of the young women chained to my arms.

Do you know what it feels like?

You don’t, do you?

Fear and uncertainty sitting heavy inside of your chest.

No rights.

‘But Tessa this was just a mistake. Clearly it was wrong but it was just a mistake. Mistakes happen.’


It was my flesh and my soul. Abstractions are nice when it’s not about you.



And alas, it was more than a ‘mistake,’ it was an attitude. For years, I thought it was ‘just a mistake.’ My individual tragedy, a one-off, a horror…something I was going to receive an apology for, any minute. But then I casually researched the business practices in the industry–and the chilling cynicism dawned on me. It was not a mistake, it was business as usual for a dehumanized soul. I was routinely scooped. That’s what they do.

They do what they do, you scream and cry and borrow money to pay the lawyer, and once you are in the clear, you don’t get an apology from anybody.  You are free to go now, aren’t you lucky? So lucky. You’ve heard stories of infinite detention, you are a winner. A winner. You are so tired, so happy to see the sky, and so broke from paying the lawyer, that you just let it go. Life goes on.

And you know what, I’ve relaxed about it, I even developed a sense of humor, and when my friends who saved me make prison jokes, I laugh with them. I am no longer bleeding. I am no longer bleeding–but I effen remember!

Crying inside of a jail cell because something is physically hurting, and you don’t know what it is, and it’s hurting unbearably…and after a while, a guard checks on you, looks moved, and says, ‘There is nothing I can do now but if it still hurts tomorrow, we will take you to a hospital.’

Food that tastes like piss.


Sleeping on a metal bed in a cold room with next to no clothes on, begging the officer for a blanket–but no luck with that, because the officer doesn’t feel like it.


You are an animal who is putting on a good face so that other people think you are not afraid.

The curious federal agents who try to scare you into becoming a ‘double agent’ (seriously, people).

‘I am not a spy,’ you say. ‘It’s my ex, it’s my abusive ex who made it all up!’

‘Oh we don’t care about that sort of thing,’ they say. ‘You figure it out with your ex. So tell me, are you going to cooperate?’

Me, with my glamorous 4.0 GPA from top schools and zero experience in street fighting, eating it all up.

You are an animal who has to put on a good face so that they don’t eat you.

A mob feeling.

Theorize all you want, but when you are on the receiving end of it, it’s a mob feeling. Cruel, infectious, senseless.

I am lucky I was able to restore my love after this horrible adventure, but the Earth must be crying over her children drawing invisible lines on her body, and making each other bleed.

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