Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

Ukrainian refugees at the San Diego-Tijuana border

 April 15, 2022 at 4:05 PM PDT

S1: The disparity in who gets asylum in the U.S. and who doesn't. As the war in Ukraine drives more people to the border.
S2: Within a span of just a few months. We've seen a totally different treatment when it comes to Ukrainians.
S1: I'm Jade Hindman. This is KPBS Midday Edition. Building more homes near transit stations gets praise and pushback.
S3: I'm extremely opposed to this building. This is just way too much , too big. A seven storey building will stand out. Insufficient parking.
S1: We'll tell you where you can get out and see some art. That's ahead on Midday Edition. The war in Ukraine has forced millions of its citizens to flee the country , thousands of whom have ended up across the border in Tijuana and eventually here in San Diego. While efforts to quickly move Ukrainian refugees through the border have been praised , it has also highlighted the difficulties of non Ukrainian migrants at the border who have waited far longer for a chance at asylum. Joining me with more on the situation is KPBS border reporter Gustavo Celis. Gustavo , welcome back to the program.
S2: Hello , Jed. Thank you for having me again.
S2: I mean , sources I've talked to for for business and art stories , even friends and families who fly from Mexico City to Tijuana say they see groups of Ukrainian at airports and on airplanes. And it has grown like we've seen it grow before. Our very eyes. Right. The first reported case of a Ukrainian asylum seeker coming to Tijuana once the war began was like first week of March , and that was one woman and her three children. Since then , we've seen it grow from a dozen people camped out right next to the San Ysidro border crossing , then to hundreds of people erecting a makeshift migrant camp just a little bit further away. And now we're seeing close to a thousand people in this city run shelter. The shelter that was actually the same one used in 2008 when the migrant caravan came. So it's grown from just a little bit to thousands.
S2: Similar situation that we saw in 2018 with the migrant caravan. Right. I mean , San Diego and Tijuana have a history of these migratory influxes and we know how to respond. Right. There are several organizations that I've seen volunteering to help migrants. Right. I've seen everything from mental health professionals , doctors , art teachers , even chefs helping people on both sides of the border with the Ukrainians. We've seen something that's kind of new and pretty awesome , which is Ukrainian nationals or Americans with Ukrainian heritage coming to Tijuana and San Diego , some of them driving from hours and hours or even flying from as far away as New York to help out a lot of border reporting , you know , particularly when it comes to migration , is dark and grim and sad. And this is genuinely uplifting and has been kind of nice to see.
S2: So the idea that allowing thousands of really poor people into the country would overwhelm the system , I don't know how fair that is. I think that narrative is coming from people with a political bone in this issue. I will say CBP has had staffing issues when it comes to border wait times and even allowing people in , but when they really want to , we've seen time and time again that they can move resources around and really cut down border wait times or allow more migrants in like we've seen with the Ukrainian nationals.
S1: And , you know , to that point in recent years , there were newly constructed processing lanes for the northbound pedestrian crossing at the east building. They were never fully staffed , though.
S2: I don't know if it's a resource question. I see it more of as a political will question. Right. I like to compare it to how during the pandemic , when we lifted those restrictions on cross-border non-essential travel , everyone was very concerned about long border wait times because there had been long border wait times throughout the pandemic. But on that day , the day that restriction was lifted , all the vehicle lanes were open , all the pedestrian inspection booths were open , and it was a breeze to cross the border that day. So CBP showed that when they want to , they can really be there and open everything. But for a variety of reasons , which could be sourcing , could be staffing , could be logistics. That's not always the case.
S1: There's been a lot of discussion that Ukrainian refugees have been receiving preferential or expedited treatment compared to other groups at the border.
S2: We've spent two years now documenting migration and how migrants are treated at the border during the pandemic , first under Trump and now under Biden. And with this , within a span of just a few months , we've seen a totally different treatment when it comes to Ukrainians. So it's like overnight everything that had been done for two years. So it's just kind of done away with and they could adjust very quickly. And I want to be clear , it's not just US authorities. We've seen this from Mexican authorities as well. Tijuana is not a particularly welcoming city to Haitian and Central American migrants. Right. They report a lot of racism and abuse thrown at them , even from the city. So it has been kind of jarring to see , for example , the city of Tijuana shut down a makeshift migrant camp where Central Americans and Mexicans were living. And now Ukrainians are walking through that same camp through where it once stood and getting access to the border. It's hard to see that and not see the unfairness or the injustice in there.
S2: How would you feel ? Right. I think of it as something minor , like , I don't know , someone cutting you off in traffic or someone snagging your parking spot. It sucks and it's unfair. Imagine that in a situation where you're fleeing for your life and you've been waiting over a year in a hostile country. I will say , though , that their frustration is not directed at the Ukrainians. It's directed at the unfair immigration system that our political class has created. Right. They all recognize that , like them , Ukrainians are also fleeing. So there is a sense of solidarity. And I think the media should kind of be introspective right now , too. I mean , there's a lot of attention , a lot of stories being written out of Taiwan and out of out of this issue. And I think it has gotten a little bit out of hand. I mean , just this week , I saw a New York Times story about Ukrainian dogs and how hard it was to get pets across the border , which sucks because pets are part of the family and it's things to be separated from them. But that story made no mention of the nonwhite asylum seekers who had been stuck at the border for months , if not years. And just think about that. Right ? Dogs are getting more attention than people. When that happens , I think we really need to start being a little bit more responsible with our coverage and really put this in the larger context of what's going on.
S1: I've been speaking with KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis. Gustavo , thank you very much for joining us.
S2: Well , thank you. Really appreciate you having me on.
S1: A year and a half ago , San Diego started a radical experiment with housing policy and approved Complete Communities , a program that allows developers to build apartments near public transit with unlimited density and unlimited height. In exchange , they have to set aside a greater share of their homes as affordable housing. KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen says the program is showing results and sparking opposition.
S4: Construction is just getting started at 901 West Washington Street and Mission Hills. This is where Sohail Knock Shop is building 54 studio apartments. They'll be compact , he says , like a Swiss army knife.
S5: We have built in so far the transitions and becomes a bed. We have tables that come out of the wall.
S4: Knock Shop is using Complete Communities , a program that lets developers build as many apartments as will fit on a given lot with no limits on density or height. Instead , the limit is on floor space , meaning the taller the building , the more slender it has to be. It's a new approach to housing that encourages smaller , less expensive homes. And if the goal was to get more housing built. Early results show it's working. If Noxubee were to build , according to the site's official zoning , his project would shrink from 54 homes to nine and the five low and middle income affordable homes in his project would be gone.
S5: Think about it. If it's only nine units and I'm already into the land for $2 million , I have to build super high end luxury just to recover my initial basis into the property. So these are not going to be rentals , it's just going to be super bougie units. That doesn't really add value to our community. It doesn't activate our community.
S4: Unlimited height might conjure images of skyscrapers , but most , if not all , of the complete community's projects are around eight stories or less. Knock Shop says high rises trigger expensive building code requirements that don't make economic sense.
S5: Specifically with these urban infill sites that are so small , it consumes so much of the footprint that you're not really able to find the sweet spot of maximizing the dwelling units that you're trying to achieve , which is the goal for everybody , is create more dwelling units.
S4: Knox Jobs Project is one of four apartment buildings that's been approved under complete communities. Another ten projects are pending approval and more are popping up every month. Altogether , the program has tripled the number of homes that would normally be allowed on those sites.
S3: So we will have some on grade parking and then we'll have a little bit of a low grade parking.
S4: Another project using complete communities is Shoreline. It's 100% affordable , low income housing , mostly two and three bedrooms right by the Granville Trolley Station. Marie Allen of Affirmed Housing says it wasn't unlimited height or density that attracted her to complete communities. It was relief from development impact fees. The program gives a steep discount on those fees for affordable housing. Allen says that saved the project about $1,000,000 , which helped immensely when applying for affordable housing tax credits.
S3: The savings that complete communities provided meant that we needed less subsidy from the state , and the less subsidy we asked for from the state , the more competitive we are. And if we're not competitive , then we have to wait another six nine months to apply again.
S4: Complete Communities is designed to be resistant to neighborhood opposition , letting projects bypass the Planning Commission and City Council and get approval directly from city staffers. But that opposition hasn't gone away.
S3: I'm extremely opposed to this building. This is just way too much , too big. A seven storey building will stand out. Insufficient parking.
S4: They're all opposed to a 175 unit apartment building proposed on Adams Avenue. The developer intends to use complete communities to build more than six times the zoned density and more than double the height. Resident Adam Deutsch sums it up.
S2: This project simply doesn't fit the community plan.
S4: Still , the Community Plan for Normal Heights hasn't been updated in a quarter century. And in a housing market where scarcity is driving steep inflation and home prices and rents complete communities is proving extremely effective at getting a lot more housing built fast. Andrew Bowen , KPBS News.
S1: You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman. This weekend in the arts , you'll find books , site specific art , a string quartet , jazz and a birthday party for Shakespeare. Joining me with all the details is KPBS arts editor and producer Julia Dixon Evans. Welcome , Julia.
S6: Hi , Jane. Thanks for having me.
S1: So let's start tonight with a performance from the Houseman Quartet. They're known for their boat deck concerts at the Maritime Museum , but this time they're performing in a small church. So tell us more about that.
S6: Yeah , this is a performance of Haydn's seven last words of Christ Peace. And this was originally composed for a Good Friday service in the 1780s and then was adapted for a string quartet , which is what is most commonly performed to this day. It's a series of movements , including seven individual sonatas , that are inspired by the seven last words of Christ. It's actually more like seven last phrases that he said throughout the crucifixion story. And there are also choral pieces a husband quartet has paired with a vocal quartet of San Diego choral performers , including Tasha Koontz. And those chorales will be performed in between each sonata and the final movement is called the earthquake. And that one is faster and louder than any of the others. And they're performing this concert as a benefit. So it's donation based , and your donation goes to one of three organizations that are working in Ukraine. It's tonight at 8 p.m. at Saint Peter's Episcopal Church in Delmar.
S1: All right. And also tonight is an author talk at the book Catapult with Melissa Chad Byrne. Tell us about her new novel. Right.
S6: Right. It's called A Tiny Upward Shove. And one of the main characters is a woman , Marina , who dies young. She's murdered , which we learn about on the very first page. And we also meet as who is a mythical creature from her Filipino grandmother's folklore. And as Frank sort of occupies Marina as we unfold her story. Her killer is based on the real life serial killer , Willie Pickton. And Melissa Chad Byrne , who is based in L.A. Her writing is such a great blend of that really unsettling crime fiction with some magic and also a really artful style. She'll be joined in conversation by local Jack Gems , who is the author of many books and most recently , the short story collection , False Bingo. That's tonight at seven. In person at the book Catapult in South Park.
S1: All right. And next on your list is a site specific art installation by artist Jamie Franks. Tell us how we can see that one. Right.
S6: Right. This one has been up at Ice Gallery in the Breton slot complex since about early March. It's temporary and site specific in the sense that it's made just for this space. But also the materials used are very ephemeral. She is this sugar substitute called Ismart and hardens into these clear glass like fragments that she then threaded with steel wire and hung in this kind of netting on the walls and almost looks like ice is breaking apart and falling from the ceiling. And if it was left up on view indefinitely , you'd likely just break down due to normal humidity. And I had seen plenty of pictures of this before I went , but I still fully gasped out loud when I set foot in the gallery for the very first time. And even the windows are coated with this blob like watery resin patterns that really takes over the whole space. The gallery has open hours every Sunday from 11 to 4. But you can also make an appointment online to see at any time during normal bread and salt hours. Those are Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.. I'm told this one will be up for a just a few more months.
S1: And Shakespeare has something for everyone. And to honor that , the Old Globe is holding a free event to celebrate his birthday.
S6: This will include some Elizabethan dance workshops , fight choreography workshops. There is a puppet show and sonnet performances with rapper Rick Scales and some of his friends and plenty more going on. I've also heard there'll be cupcakes. The Globe is launching their really ambitious Henry six project with this event. So it's going to be a chance to hear more about that program. And you can stop by the Globe's Plaza on Saturday from 11 to 130 for the celebration. And you can find a schedule of events for the day on our calendar.
S1: And now some jazz sons of Kemet are playing at the belly up on Saturday. Tell us about them. Right.
S6: Right. This is a British jazz group and they're known for their high energy , powerful mix of jazz , Caribbean and African folk influence and also rock music. They're led by saxophonist and clarinetist Shabaka Hutchins , and they just put out a new full length album. It's called Black to the Future. The song here is called To Never Forget the Source. And I also have to mention Melanie Charles , who is touring with them and will be playing the opening set. She is an experimental jazz singer and I highly recommend checking out her recent NPR Tiny Desk Home concert. She has this gorgeous rendition of Deep River. It's inspired by Sun Ra and Afrofuturism. Each.
S3: Each. It's been.
S6: And the show with Sons of Kemet is Saturday at 9 p.m. at the Belly up in Solana Beach.
S1: All right. You can find details for these and more arts events or sign up for Julia's weekly KPBS arts newsletter at KPBS dot org Slash Arts. I've been speaking with KPBS arts editor and producer Julia Dixon Evans. Julia , thank you so much.
S6: Thanks , Jade. Have a good weekend.
S1: You too.

While efforts to quickly move Ukrainian refugees through the border have been praised, it has also highlighted the difficulties of non-Ukrainian migrants at the border who have waited far longer for a chance at asylum. Plus, 1½ years ago, San Diego approved “Complete Communities,” a program that allows developers to build apartments near public transit with unlimited density and unlimited height. In exchange, they have to set aside a greater share of their homes as affordable housing. The program is showing results but there are also oppositions. And, this weekend in the arts, you'll find books, site-specific art, a string quartet, jazz and a birthday party for Shakespeare.