Over the past four years, there has been one overwhelming feeling weighing on 19-year-old Flor Selena Caceres: stress.
That could be chalked up to her academic career. Caceres signed up for every class she could fit into her schedule in high school, and has continued that as a double major at Lafayette College. Or it could be from her work advocating for immigrant rights, from which she rarely takes time off. But the root cause of her stress, she says, stems from a piece of paper, or rather, the lack thereof. Caceres is undocumented.
Caceres was born in Guatemala but grew up in Arlington,Virignia, where she attended Yorktown High School. She’s currently attending college on a full-ride scholarship at Lafayette.
Caceres got some relief last week, when the Supreme Court ruled blocked the Trump administration from ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which helps nearly 650,000 young, undocumented immigrants who already live in the United States do so without fear of deportation. They also receive work authorization and can apply for a social security number.
In the 5-4 decision, the court ruled that the way the Trump administration went about repealing the program was “arbitrary and capricious,” and therefore unlawful.
For Caceres, the news brought tears of joy.
“My brother texts me and he’s like, ‘DACA survives,’ and I just started crying right away and I put my phone down,” she said. “This was really a moment of relief because it was the Supreme Court telling the Trump Administration that they’re ruling in favor of this constitutional program, and it was unconstitutional for him to take it down.”
But Caceres said she later noticed the court’s decision to protect the immigration program was more about how the Trump administration did it, instead of protecting the DACA program itself.
“I realized later that day that one of the justices, while he agreed with the fight that DACA should not have been taken away in that way, he still basically made room for Trump and his administration to find another way to rescind it in a more lawful way,” she said. “So I just think that while this provides some relief…there’s still that question of when is he going to attack it again?
When President Trump took office, Caceres said she became familiar with sleepless nights, worrying over the possibilities.
“I keep coming back to the words, ‘frightening’ and ‘traumatic.’ I mean it was stressful, I was full of anxiety, not only as a student who had academics to worry about, along with college and internship applications, but also there’s this whole other personal life stress that you have no control over,” she said.
Caceres explained that as Trump implemented policies like the travel ban and his push to build a wall along the southern border, her family was thrown into limbo.
“We didn’t know when he would decide to do more immigration raids or enforcing stricter regulations on immigrants,” Caceres said. “But what was even more frightening to think about is the fact that our nightmare was starting to become reality that we could be separated.”
Caceres and her family have always known the importance of having a backup plan, just in case. She said that they began to have discussions about what would happen if they were separated because of a deportation.
“My parents became more serious about their backup plans in case anything were to happen to any of us,” she said.
Caceres moved to the United States from Guatemala when she was four years old and became eligible for DACA when it was established under President Barack Obama.
It took hard work for Caceres and her family of six to get her DACA application in, and then it took more time to wait for its approval. An added level of stress came when President Trump took office, as he tried to fulfill campaign promises to end the program.
“[President Trump] was so blunt about everything that he wanted to do as president, we weren’t so sure about what the future might hold for us,” Caceres said. “We were unsure even during the Obama administration, with me being undocumented, but now there is this bigger fear surrounding us when you realize that Trump might actually win this.”
Caceres also noticed her environment changed after President Trump’s election. Students at school tried to put up a Black Lives Matter sign which was met with pushback, the school’s administration got involved and even FOX News covered the issue.
She explained that one student who belonged to the school’s Young Republicans group had a cellphone group chat and gave out a phone number to “deport illegal aliens.”
“I was like what did I do to you? I was just shocked by the fact that there was this kind of backlash,” Caceres said. “I’m just here for my education and there will always be people like him, that’s just the reality who are going to question me just being here and sometimes you just have to show them that you belong here.”
Caceres said that now her stress stems, in part, out of a fear that President Trump will be re-elected.
“I just hope that people get out and vote and hopefully we have a new president that’s going to ensure that DACA recipients and undocumented immigrants are protected from any form of deportation,” she said.