For now, Army suspends discharges of immigrant recruits
The U.S. Army has stopped discharging immigrant recruits who enlisted seeking a path to citizenship — at least temporarily.
A memo shared with The Associated Press spells out orders to high-ranking Army officials to stop processing discharges of men and women who enlisted in the special immigrant program.
“Effective immediately, you will suspend processing of all involuntary separation actions,” read the memo signed July 20 by Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Marshall Williams.
The disclosure comes one month after the AP reported that dozens of immigrant enlistees were being discharged or had their contracts cancelled. Some said they were given no reason for their discharge. Others said the Army informed them they’d been labeled as security risks because they have relatives abroad or because the Defence Department had not completed background checks on them.
In a statement Thursday, Army Lt. Col. Nina L. Hill said they were stopping the discharges in order to review the administrative separation process. The decision could impact hundreds of enlistees.
Muslim cleric: Grandson found buried at New Mexico compound
TAOS, N.M. (AP) — A severely disabled Georgia boy who authorities say was kidnapped by his father and marked for an exorcism was found buried at the ramshackle compound in the New Mexico desert that has been the focus of investigators for the past week, the toddler’s grandfather said Thursday.
New Mexico authorities, however, said they had yet to identify the remains, discovered Monday. And prosecutors said they were awaiting word on the cause of death before deciding on any charges.
The boy, Abdul-ghani Wahhaj, would have turned 4 Monday. Prosecutors said he was snatched from his mother in December in Jonesboro, Georgia, near Atlanta.
The search for him led authorities to New Mexico, where 11 hungry children and a youngster’s remains were found in recent days at a filthy compound shielded by old tires, wooden pallets and an earthen wall studded with broken glass.
The missing boy’s grandfather, Siraj Wahhaj, a Muslim cleric who leads a well-known New York City mosque, told reporters he had learned from other family members that the remains were his grandson’s.
Court orders ban on harmful pesticide, says EPA violated law
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that the Trump administration endangered public health by keeping a widely used pesticide on the market despite extensive scientific evidence that even tiny levels of exposure can harm babies’ brains.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to remove chlorpyrifos from sale in the United States within 60 days.
A coalition of farmworkers and environmental groups sued last year after then-EPA chief Scott Pruitt reversed an Obama-era effort to ban chlorpyrifos, which is widely sprayed on citrus fruit, apples and other crops. The attorneys general for several states joined the case against EPA, including California, New York and Massachusetts.
In a split decision, the court said Thursday that Pruitt, a Republican forced to resign earlier this summer amid ethics scandals, violated federal law by ignoring the conclusions of agency scientists that chlorpyrifos is harmful.
“The panel held that there was no justification for the EPA’s decision in its 2017 order to maintain a tolerance for chlorpyrifos in the face of scientific evidence that its residue on food causes neurodevelopmental damage to children,” Judge Jed S. Rakoff wrote in the court’s opinion.
Pence outlines US Space Force plan for ‘next battlefield’
WASHINGTON (AP) — Pointing to growing threats and competition from Russia and China, the White House on Thursday announced ambitious plans to create the U.S. Space Force as a sixth, separate military warfighting service by 2020.
The proposal taps into the American public’s long fascination with space — but with a military focus. The plan faces daunting hurdles and requires congressional approval. Military leaders and experts have questioned the wisdom of launching an expensive, bureaucratic new service branch.
Vice-President Mike Pence announced the new force during a Pentagon speech, fleshing out an idea that President Donald Trump has extolled in recent months as he vowed to ensure American dominance in space. Pence described space as a domain that was once peaceful and uncontested but has now become crowded and adversarial.
“Now the time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of our armed forces, to prepare for the next battlefield where America’s best and bravest will be called to deter and defeat a new generation of threats to our people, to our nation,” Pence said.
Trump marked Pence’s announcement with a tweet: “Space Force all the way!”
Kansas governor’s race turns nasty as Kobach’s lead dwindles
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Thursday that he will remove himself from the further counting of votes while his Republican primary battle with Gov. Jeff Colyer hangs in the balance, describing it as a “symbolic” step in response to a public demand from Colyer.
The governor publicly accused Kobach, the state’s top elections official, of giving county election officials information about the handling of yet-uncounted ballots “inconsistent with Kansas law.” He demanded in a letter to Kobach that Kobach stop advising county officials and have the state’s attorney general do it instead.
The close contest between the embattled governor and a conservative lightning rod took another acrimonious turn as Kobach’s already tiny lead shrunk from 191 votes to just 121 out of 311,000 ballots cast, after two counties reported discrepancies in their initial tallies.
Kobach needled Colyer in a Fox Business network appearance Thursday evening, saying it would be “pointless” to remove himself from the process because the state’s 105 counties handle the counting of ballots but he might do so just to make Colyer “feel good.”
But a little more than an hour later, questioned on CNN, Kobach said: “I said, ‘Of course, if he wants me to, I would,” and he has said, ‘OK, I do want you to,’ so I will.”
Tennessee carries out its 1st execution in nearly a decade
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee carried out the execution Thursday of a man condemned for the 1985 rape and murder of a 7-year-old girl, marking the first time the state has applied the death penalty in nearly a decade.
Inmate Billy Ray Irick, 59, received a three-drug injection at a maximum-security prison in Nashville and was pronounced dead at 7:48 p.m., authorities said. He was convicted in 1986 in the death of Paula Dyer, a Knoxville girl he was babysitting.
The blinds between a witness room and the execution chamber were opened at 7:26 p.m. and Irick could be seen through glass windows strapped to a gurney, an IV stuck in his arm and leading back through the wall to a room hidden by a mirror-window, where someone administered the drugs. Asked if he had any words before the chemicals began flowing, Irick at first appeared to sigh and say “no.” But then he said, “I just want to say I’m really sorry and that, that’s it.”
Then the execution proceeded. A minute later, his eyes closed. Snoring and heavy breathing were heard. At 7:34 p.m., there was coughing, huffing and deep breaths. An attendant began yelling “Billy” and checked the inmate and grabbed his shoulder, but there didn’t seem to be any reaction. Minutes later, Irick let out a cough or choking sound, as his face turned dark purple. Then he appeared to stop making noise and was soon after pronounced dead.
Hours earlier Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for the execution, denying Irick’s request for a stay. But Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a blistering dissent, recounting details from a recent state court trial of a case brought by inmates contesting Tennessee’s execution drugs.
Outdoor fun dwindles as smoky haze hangs over California
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A dull haze and the faint smell of smoke from distant blazes have blanketed many California cities for two weeks, forcing summer campers to stay inside, obscuring normally bright skylines and leaving cars covered with ash.
Smoky air from blowing winds is nothing new in California, but air quality experts say it’s rare for the dirty air to linger for so long, a reality of ever-larger fires that take longer to extinguish.
The haze stretches from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range to Sacramento and hovers over the San Francisco Bay Area, with most major population centres in between suffering air quality that’s considered dangerous for children, the elderly and people with asthma or other respiratory conditions.
Kaela Baylis of Sacramento used to take her nearly 2-year-old son outside twice a day but has only gone in the morning the last 10 days.
“He asks to go outside a lot in the afternoon,” she said Wednesday as they strolled through a park.
Police: College hoops coach threw punch killing NYC tourist
NEW YORK (AP) — A rising star in college basketball’s coaching ranks threw a punch that led to the death of a New York City tourist who apparently mistook him for an Uber driver, police said on Thursday.
Wake Forest assistant coach Jamill Jones attacked digital marketing guru Sandor Szabo around 1:15 a.m. Sunday in Queens, causing him to fall and hit his head on the sidewalk, police said.
Szabo, visiting from Boca Raton, Florida, made contact with the window of Jones’ SUV while looking for his ride after his stepsister’s wedding, police said.
A person familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press that Szabo may have been drunkenly banging on car windows before Jones allegedly confronted him. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not allowed to speak publicly.
The coach got out, followed Szabo to the sidewalk, clocked him and sped off, police said. Szabo never regained consciousness and was taken off life support on Tuesday.
Yemen rebels say Saudi coalition airstrike in north kills 50
SANAA, Yemen (AP) — An airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition fighting Shiite rebels hit a bus driving in a busy market in northern Yemen on Thursday, killing least 50 people including children and wounding 77, Yemen’s rebel-run Al Masirah TV said citing rebel Health Ministry figures.
The Saudi-led coalition, meanwhile, said it targeted the rebels, known as Houthis, who had fired a missile at the kingdom’s south on Wednesday, killing one person who was a Yemeni resident in the area.
Al Masirah TV aired dramatic images of wounded children, their clothes and schoolbags covered with blood as they lay on hospital stretchers. The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Twitter that its team at an ICRC supported hospital in Saada received the bodies of 29 children, all under 15 years old. It also received 48 wounded people, including 30 children, it said.
The attack took place in the Dahyan market in Saada province, a Houthi stronghold. The province lies along the border with Saudi Arabia. The bus was ferrying local civilians, including many children, according to Yemeni tribal leaders who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
There was no breakdown in the casualties and it was not immediately clear how many of the victims were on the bus itself and how many were pedestrians in the immediate area around it. It was also unclear if there were other airstrikes in the area.
Flames inch close to California homes as thousands evacuate
LOS ANGELES (AP) — An intentionally set wildfire grew perilously close to homes in Southern California on Thursday as evacuation orders expanded to more than 20,000 residents, though some homeowners stayed behind to fend off the flames themselves.
Firefighters fought a desperate battle to stop the Holy Fire from reaching homes as the blaze surged through the Cleveland National Forest above the city of Lake Elsinore and its surrounding communities. They were trying to keep the flames from devouring neighbourhoods and taking lives, as gigantic fires still burning in Northern California have done.
“Our main focus this afternoon was getting everyone out safely,” said Thanh Nguyen, a spokesman for the crews battling the Holy Fire.
As flames raged closer, some residents ignoring evacuation orders stood in driveways or on top of roofs and used garden hoses to keep their homes wet and to fight the flames as smoke billowed around them.
Joe Rodriguez was using a power washer to wet down his patio in the McVicker Canyon Park neighbourhood on Thursday morning.