Let’s begin by praying for the soul of Kate Steinle and her family, who have been dragged into the middle of a national conversation about so-called sanctuary cities.  

Imagine how difficult that talk becomes when most of the concerned citizens who reflexively say they oppose sanctuary cities don’t have the foggiest idea what they are, much less that they don’t really exist.

No matter what you hear from conservatives, local officials can’t stop federal immigration agents from enforcing the law. And no matter what you hear from liberals, no one really wants dangerous immigrant criminals roaming their streets. 

Show me one of those flashy sanctuary city ordinances, and I’ll show you the language the city attorney inserted to create just enough “unless…” and “except when…” loopholes to allow federal agents to purge localities of the undocumented. 

America, you’re being conned.

Meanwhile, the media — which are supposed to explain all this to the masses — are lost in the weeds because they take their cues from journalists in New York and Washington who don’t understand the immigration issue.

Thus, predictably, the Fourth Estate has made a first-class mess of its coverage of the verdict in the Steinle trial.  

You’ve no doubt heard about the 32-year-old woman who was killed by an illegal immigrant at a San Francisco pier in July 2015, and how the tragedy helped put Donald Trump in the White House when he used it as a rallying cry to end sanctuary cities. 

Point of clarification: Trump did not win the presidential election because of a massive public outcry over Steinle’s murder or anger over sanctuary cities. He won because he garnered the support of disaffected working-class Democrats in the Rust Belt states — Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania — by convincing them that a real estate mogul could reverse their economic slide, reopen factories, bring back jobs and put a chicken in every pot.

Nonetheless, Trump’s supporters insist that Steinle is dead because San Francisco protects the undocumented, and that this is why Jose Ines Garcia Zarate went there in the first place to live happily ever after without fear of deportation.

Of course, to get there, they have to ignore the interview that Garcia Zarate gave after the shooting in which he said that he went to San Francisco to look for a job. Pure and simple. 

Is Americans’ dependence on illegal immigrant labor at least partly responsible for the death of this poor young woman? Clearly, we’re not ready to have that conversation. Better to talk about sanctuary cities, whether they’re real or not. 

This much is real. Prosecutors sometimes get swept up in politics, get greedy and get taken down. In this case, it’s obvious that prosecutors overcharged Garcia Zarate, seeking an improbable first-degree murder conviction for what appears to have been a nonpremeditated accidental killing that occurred when a bullet ricocheted off the pier and struck Steinle in the back.

In a verdict that shocked many, the jury acquitted the defendant of the more serious charges and only convicted him on a measly gun charge.

Undeniably, Garcia Zarate should not have been in the United States in the first place, and he bears most of the blame for fiddling with a loaded gun that he claims he found under a bench and firing the bullet that killed Steinle. 

But there is blame to go around. That .40-caliber Sig Sauer handgun belonged to John Woychowski, a federal park ranger with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management who claims it was stolen out of his locked vehicle. Woychowski also has some explaining to do.

The folks who want to stand up for Steinle insist that the San Francisco County Sheriff’s Office also bears much of the blame for letting Garcia Zarate out of the county jail three months before the shooting — despite the fact that Immigration and Customs Enforcement put in a “detainer” request asking that they hold him until immigration agents could pick him up.

But a detainer isn’t as strong of a statement as a warrant, which the federal authorities didn’t issue. Besides, we’re talking professional courtesy here. The local police who arrest bad guys or the sheriff’s deputies who put them in the county jail are not under any legal requirement to do the job of federal agents for them, or cooperate with them in any way. 

In the end, Garcia Zarate walked out of jail — and went on to commit a terrible crime for which he may never answer. However, he is not out of the woods. Federal authorities have issued new charges, for violations of federal gun laws and for re-entering the United States after being deported five times. 

What a sad story. Let’s hope that, this time around, the long and winding road has a better ending — one that veers away from politics and bends toward justice. 


Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group, a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors, a columnist for the Daily Beast, author of “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano” and the host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.”