Medina Blekic loves to sing.
If you look at her Facebook page, following the timeline of photos back to when her family moved to North Florida about 10 years ago, there is a picture of when she was in elementary school, holding a big microphone in her little hands.
She’s 17 now. She used to get nervous when she was asked to sing in public. But for the most part she’s over that. And these days when she sings at events such as “Birdies for the Brave,” she often is belting out a particularly challenging song: the national anthem.
She’s been involved in Junior ROTC at Nease High School for four years, becoming a company commander responsible for more than 50 cadets. Her uniform is covered with medals. Her dream is to go to college, join the Navy and serve her country as an anesthesiologist.
But while classmates are looking forward to graduation in May, she has reason to dread the day — or at least to fear what will happen to her and her parents after she walks across the stage.
Immigration officials have told them that after her graduation, they will be deported.
If that happens, Medina will leave the only country she really knows.
“I don’t really remember anything before here,” she said.
They live in a townhouse in St. Johns County. There’s an SUV in the driveway, a Nease JROTC sticker on the rear window. Past the welcome mat, the inside of the home feels spotless, which shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Her parents, Elvir and Amra, own and operate a successful janitorial service company. Amra manages a restaurant franchise that she proudly says did $1.7 million in business last year.
They offer a seat at the kitchen table and recall the exact day they came to America on visitor visas — and how happy they were to be here, far away from the war in Bosnia, close to family.
“May 30, 2008,” Amra said. “So this year will be exactly 10 years.”
Elvir’s father, mother and two brothers already were living here as U.S. citizens. They hoped to join them. They applied for asylum, citing the fears of returning to the bloody civil war in Bosnia.
Medina was 8. Her sister, Jenna, was 12.
While waiting for asylum, the girls started school. The parents started working. They began building a life, doing what was required to stay here legally, hoping to fulfill their idea of a dream and become permanent legal U.S. residents.
“We got our visa for years,” Amra Blekic said. “But then the judge in Miami said, ‘We believe your story, but now people are going back to Bosnia, it’s nicer.’ ”
Their asylum was denied. In February 2014, they were given a deportation order. But they also were given a given an order of supervision and repeated stays of removal — allowing them to keep working, going to school and clinging to hopes of somehow becoming permanent residents.
“They still can come any minute and get you if you do something wrong,” she said. “But you are eligible to apply for a work visa, eligible to stay if you do the right thing. And we did the right thing. We had to report once a year. We got approved each year … until last year.”
Last year their stay of removal was denied. The adults were given the choice of being taken into custody or wearing ankle bracelets. They chose to wear the bracelets. They weren’t trying to hide or flee. They were trying to stay.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials told them they could stay here until Medina graduated from Nease.
“They said, ‘Finish school, but you need to be aware that after your graduation we are going to deport you,’ ” her mother said.
So while Medina’s classmates have been applying to schools, making plans for their future, worrying about typical teenage things, she has been doing her best not to worry about what will happen in May.
When her classmates found out, some of them started crying. She ended up comforting them, telling them it was OK, they didn’t need to cry.
The Blekic family has been a part of the Nease Junior ROTC family for seven years — three with Jenny, the last four with Medina.
Medina is one of only two current cadets who have been a member of the drill team for four years. She went to a leadership academy last summer. She has hundreds of hours of volunteer service, a 3.4 GPA and the respect of peers and teachers.
John Duffy, a retired instructor at Nease, had both of the Blekic girls as students. He said he hopes something can be doing to keep the Blekics here.
“Medina is someone our country needs to retain, not send her to a place she does not want to be,” he said.
Scott LaRochelle leads the Nease JROTC program. The Navy didn’t want him to comment for this story. But something he did last year speaks much louder than anything he could have said. Even months later, when Medina’s mother recalls it while sitting at their kitchen table, her voice starts to crack.
“Captain wanted to adopt her,” she said, glancing at Medina. “You were too old for that. But that meant a lot.”
This is the one moment during a long conversation when there are tears.
“It’s scary,” Amra Blekic said. “I agree with the president wanting to deport people who are criminals, people who are dangerous to the public. But we’re working hard, paying taxes, doing the right thing. We’ve been here 10 years with no tickets, no nothing. All we really want is a chance to live our dream in this wonderful country.
“It’s scary. But I always think positive. We’re really looking forward to something good to happen to us this year.”
Immigration certainly is back in the news. On Tuesday, a federal judge issued an injunction ordering the Trump administration to restart the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, which shielded people brought into this country illegally as minors from immediate deportation.
By the end of the week, bipartisan talks appeared to be leading to a tentative deal on immigration reform. But those talks imploded spectacularly, with headlines about the president making incendiary remarks about people from developing countries.
Amid all this uncertainty and chaos, Medina and her family are trying to enjoy today while preparing for tomorrow.
“They’re facing what many, many immigrants are facing,” said Stephanie Scarborough, a Jacksonville lawyer representing the family. “The rhetoric we hear is about rapist and drug dealers coming across the border. The reality is that there is a very diverse group of immigrants who will be impacted by current policies.”
And, she said, that impact has ripple effects. The people employed by the janitorial business could lose their jobs. The restaurant franchise that Amra runs could lose a good employee.
“It’s sad, but it’s where American immigration policy is right now,” she said. “We’re in a purge mode, which is sad because it’s purge without thought.”
Some of the people I talked to about Medina — some whose patriotism no one would question — said they only wish we had more young people like her here.
If she is deported after graduating from Nease, they said, it will be a sad day not only for her family and her friends. It will be a loss for the country whose national anthem she hopes to keep singing. firstname.lastname@example.org,