16 people who shaped the 2016 election: Liz Sullivan and Jim Steinle

By Nov. 9, the votes will have been cast and counted, there will be a winner and a loser, and the country will begin a slow return to normal. Historians will have their say on the outcome, but all of us who have lived through this election will carry away indelible memories of a shocking year in American history: of a handful of ordinary people, swept up in the rush of history; of a series of moments on which the fate of the nation seemed, at least briefly, to turn; and of places on the map that became symbols of a divided nation. As we count down to Election Day, Yahoo News has identified 16 unforgettable people, moments and places.

There is no more powerful testimony than the words of a grieving parent, and both parties sought to harness that power in their national conventions. Three parents whose children were killed by illegal immigrants took the stage on the first night of the Republican convention in support of Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown. And in Trump’s own speech, he evoked the tragic death, a year earlier, of Kathryn Steinle, a San Francisco woman who was shot and killed while walking with her father on that city’s iconic Embarcadero.

Many of the facts of the Steinle case seemed ideal for Trump’s purpose. Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez — who was arrested the same day and charged with murder — was in the country illegally; he had seven felony convictions and had been deported five times since 1994. He had avoided another trip back to Mexico only through a kind of reverse Catch-22, compounded by bureaucratic confusion: When his last prison sentence ended in March, instead of being deported, he was sent to San Francisco to answer a 20-year-old warrant on a marijuana charge, which was promptly dismissed. San Francisco is one of dozens of “sanctuary” cities in which law enforcement officials are constrained from cooperating with federal immigration authorities except under specific conditions. Lopez-Sanchez, despite his extensive record, apparently fell through the cracks. After a brief stay in jail, he was released onto the streets.

The day after the killing, Trump was citing it on Twitter as evidence that “our Southern border is totally out of control!” Republican candidates began demanding a crackdown on sanctuary cities, enforced, if necessary, by withholding federal aid for law enforcement. Trump picked up the theme in his acceptance speech: “These families have no special interests to represent them. There are no demonstrators to protest on their behalf. My opponent will never meet with them or share in their pain. Instead, my opponent wants sanctuary cities. But where was sanctuary for Kate Steinle?”

Jim Steinle and Liz Sullivan, parents of Kathryn Steinle.

Jim Steinle and Liz Sullivan, parents of Kathryn Steinle, answer questions during a news conference on the steps of City Hall in San Francisco. (Photo: Eric Risberg/AP)

Clinton, like many Democrats, supports the concept of sanctuary cities. Her campaign pointed out they are intended, in part, to encourage undocumented aliens to cooperate with police, as victims or witnesses, without risking their own deportation. She criticized the bureaucratic failures that led to Lopez-Sanchez’s release. But Trump obviously believed the issue was a winning one for him.

Steinle’s grieving parents, Jim Steinle and Liz Sullivan, who have maintained a dignified, reticent stance since the tragedy, weren’t on the stage with Trump and seemed uncomfortable with being dragged into his campaign. “For Donald Trump, we were just what he needed — beautiful girl, San Francisco, illegal immigrant, arrested a million times, a violent crime and yadda, yadda, yadda,” Sullivan said last year in one of the few interviews she has given. “We were the perfect storm for that man.”

They have brought a lawsuit against local and federal officials aiming to close some of the loopholes that led to Lopez-Sanchez’s release. But Sullivan said she doesn’t oppose the idea of sanctuary cities, and Steinle has come out against mass deportation of illegals: “If you deport them, what are you going to eat? Rocks?” he said. “I mean, they feed the United States.” — By Jerry Adler 

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