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Ukrainian refugee program leaves some behind

 April 26, 2022 at 5:00 AM PDT

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Tuesday, April 26th>>>>

New program leaves some Ukrainian refugees behind

More on that next. But first... let’s do the headlines….

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The supreme court today will hear arguments over whether or not the Biden administration can end the “Remain in Mexico” policy. The Trump era rule forces migrants seeking asylum to stay in Mexico while they await the resolution of their cases. President Joe Biden repealed the policy as soon as he got into office but a judge forced him to reinstate it last December. Migrant right’s advocates criticize the policy for putting asylum seekers in harm's way in dangerous Mexican border cities.

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The San Diego City Council voted yesterday to ban the sale of flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes. Supporters of the ban say big tobacco companies are using candy-like flavors to get young people hooked on nicotine so they become lifelong smokers and vapers.

Marlon Oram Mansour of the Neighborhood Market Association says young people rarely get nicotine products from brick-and-mortar stores.

“They're getting it from online sources, unregulated and untaxed, black market. If you pass this, one year from now you'll see the current legal users of these products resort back to traditional harmful cigarettes.”

The city's ban will take effect in January. California voters will decide in November whether to ban the sale of flavored tobacco statewide.

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A 15 year old girl was arrested and charged over the weekend in connection with the recent stabbing of a black girl by a 16 year old boy. She’s said to be the girlfriend of the boy who allegedly carried out the attack. Both are facing charges of attempted murder and committing a hate crime. The boy has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

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From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now.
Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

Monday marked the beginning of the Biden Administration’s Uniting for Ukraine program. The program is meant to streamline the immigration process by connecting Ukrainian war refugees with American sponsors. But KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis says it also blocks Ukrainians from entering the United States through land borders.

The southern border is once again closed to Ukrainian war refugees.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, Ukrainians who present themselves at the border without a valid visa will be denied entry.

More than 15 thousand Ukrainians have crossed into the U.S. through the southern border since war broke out in February.

On Sunday night in Tijuana, groups of Ukrainians hurried to the border before midnight.

Enrique Lucero is the head of Tijuana’s Migrant Affairs Department. He says they were the last to cross.

“Ahorita ya se cerro la garita El Chaparral ya no van a poder entrar por ahi.”

Ukrainians who didn’t get the memo and arrived in Tijuana after Sunday night will now be asked to go to Mexico City.

Volunteer organizations are setting up a shelter in Mexico City where Ukrainians can apply for a program to fly directly from Mexico City to the United States.

Lucero expects the number of Ukrainian nationals to decrease in Tijuana.

Approximately 30 Ukrainian nationals arrived to Tijuana Monday morning. None of them will be able to cross into the United States because of this new policy.

Gustavo Solis, KPBS News

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The federal case involving the largest contracting scandal in Navy history has hit a legal snag that could trigger a mistrial. KPBS Military Reporter Steve Walsh says the defense is questioning the government’s conduct.

The case of the man dubbed “Fat Leonard” has been going on for nearly a decade. Malaysian contractor Leonard Francis has long since been convicted of bribing dozens of high ranking officers, to win the Navy’s business throughout the western Pacific.

The last five officers indicted in the case have been on trial in San Diego for 9 weeks. Late last week the trial paused after the defense accused prosecutors of not properly disclosing an interview with a sex worker, who said she did not sleep with one of the officers.

Monday, the defense questioned whether Philipeano sex workers were improperly offered money to testify during the trial. Judge Janis Sammartino indicated she is open to a defense request to require prosecutors to take the stand. Steve Walsh KPBS News

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The San Dieguito Union High School District's Superintendent is speaking out after being placed on administrative leave late last week.

She spoke to KPBS Education Reporter M.G. Perez about her racially biased comments.

Dr. Cheryl James-Ward admits she was wrong. She’s apologized and now she’s determined to keep her job as leader of the San Dieguito Union High School District.

Comments made about Asian families at a district meeting on diversity equality and inclusion have received tremendous backlash ….with calls for her resignation. Ward has been made a financial offer to resign. She says she will not…and will sue the district for wrongful termination if the board fires her

“I apologize for the hurt that came out of that …but it was never meant to hurt…it was out of a pure heart.”

Ward also has a mountain of support from parents and community members who believe she is remorseful and valuable to the district’s growth deserving of a second chance. MGP KPBS News

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Coming up....the Navy's COVID-19 vaccine policy has some religious advocates worried.

“I think the process itself is causing a significant part of the problem. But then, but you know the big problem is that nobody is getting granted, nobody's being granted.”

We’ll have that story and more, next, just after the break.

The military is taking a hard line on troops seeking religious exemptions to the COVID vaccine mandate. It’s granted few exemptions, and asked the courts to uphold its policy of discharging service members who refuse the vaccine.

But KPBS Military Reporter Steve Walsh says advocates worry the Pentagon's position could make it harder for other troops who seek different kinds of religious accommodations.

Petty Officer First Class Juwairiya Webb joined the Navy after Sept. 11, 2001. She’s Muslim but Webb was told at boot camp that she could not cover her hair with a traditional hijab.

“I felt naked. I felt like everyone was looking at me. I felt uncomfortable, but it took time for me to get used to it.”

She still covered her hair when she was out of uniform. As her faith deepened, she says she wanted to make a hijab part of her Navy life in San Diego. A few months ago, her command granted her request for an accommodation under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“It's something that I've always wanted to do. I was just worried about how people would perceive me …and it also made me feel really proud, because now I'm representing Muslims, and they can see how we really are.”

RFRA has been in the spotlight as a number of troops, including a group of Navy SEALs, have filed lawsuits on religious grounds. They're challenging the military COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The Pentagon is discharging troops who refuse the shot..

Attorney Daniel Blomberg’s firm handles religious freedom cases. He's not involved in COVID lawsuits, but is worried his clients could be impacted.

He says the Navy is bypassing the normal process for granting religious accommodations.

“I think the process itself is causing a significant part of the problem. But then, but you know the big problem is that nobody is getting granted, nobody's being granted, right.”

Though mainstream Christian leaders support the vaccine, the most common objection is that cells used to research the vaccine were ancestors of aborted cells taken decades earlier.

More than 3,000 sailors have applied for religious exemptions, since the mandate took effect in November.

A federal judge issued an injunction barring the Navy from discharging them - possibly until the supreme court rules. Blomberg fears those cases might make it easier for the military to deny other religious accomodations. “If a service Member has a sincere religious belief, and the government substantially burdens it. Then, the government has to have a really good reason to do that and there is no other way of accomplishing the mission.”

Blomberg has represented Sikhs who have filed lawsuits to wear traditional turbans. And other sailors whose faiths emphasizes wearing beards. He says the law is supposed to find reasonable accommodation - wherever practical.

“They're going to be some environments, that will not be as conducive for having a bearded Jew or Sikhs or Muslim serving. It just won't. And so those individuals will have the opportunity to serve in other contexts.”

He says an unvaccinated SEAL can work a desk job rather than in close quarters of a RIB boat. But they shouldn’t be discharged.

Navy leaders have told the courts they see vaccination as the way back to normal, after crippling COVID-19 outbreaks sidelined ships.Navy Surgeon General Bruce Gillingham spoke to sailors in a video.

“COVID is a force readiness issue. And there is no better protection for an individual, a family or the community than getting the immunity that comes from being vaccinated.”

“I do support the COVID vaccine, so that's why I'm vaccinated.”

Petty Officer Webb says she asked the Council on American-Islamic Relations to write a letter to her command after she became more observant - even though she plans to retire from the Navy in a little over a year. In her case, the Navy set limits on where she can wear her hijab. For instance, if she ever works on a flight line. Steve Walsh KPBS news.

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Environment California says the nation has enough solar power capacity to keep the lights on in 16 percent of the country’s homes. San Diego continues to be a leader in that effort.

KPBS Environment Reporter Erik Anderson has more.

San Diego held onto its spot as the U-S city with the second most solar power capacity on local rooftops. Only Los Angeles had more. The Shining Cities report found solar power continues to grow around the country with enough capacity to power 23 million homes. Environment California’s Laura Deehan says that’s a major uptick from just ten years ago. And she says California continues to lead the way.

“Here in California we now have over ten gigawatts of rooftop solar capacity which is really tremendous. That’s about a quarter of our overall electric use on any given day.”

San Diego ranks third among 19 cities that have more than 100 watts of rooftop solar generating power for each resident. San Diego’s 337 watts only falls behind Las Vegas and Honolulu.

Erik Anderson KPBS News

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Public transit is about to be a lot more accessible for young people in San Diego.

KPBS race and equity reporter Cristina Kim has more.

Beginning on May first… all youth in San Diego County under the age 18 will be able to ride public transit for free as part of a new SANDAG Youth Opportunity Pass pilot program.

It’s something community advocates at MIDCITY CAN have long been fighting for… including Ana Gonazlaz. As a mother of three kids … all under 18 … in San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood,she says the program will be a big help.

Sometimes if I'm working so they can take public transportation and I don't worry about if they have money or not, or if I have the time to take them to those activities.

With inflation and gas prices at 40-year highs, , she says program will benefit everyone in San Diego.

I see this as a big win for all the students because sometimes people can believe that it's only for low income students, but not this is for all the students in San Diego.

MidCity CAN is hosting a celebration on Tuesday at 5:30pm at the City Heights library to help families sign up for a Youth Pronto account and learn more about the program.

Cristina Kim. KPBS News.

That’s it for the podcast today. As always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Annica Colbert. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

The new program is meant to streamline the refugee process for Ukrainians, but it also prevents Ukrainians already in Mexico from walking across the border. Also, the “Fat Leonard” case hits a snag that could trigger a mistrial. Plus, the Navy's COVID-19 vaccine policy has some religious advocates worried.