GOP Lawmaker Who Pushed Tough Immigration Law Wants it Overturned

Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, (R, Orem), presents his opening remarks about his immigration bill at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, Utah.

Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, (R, Orem), presents his opening remarks about his immigration bill at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, Utah.  (AP)

It took a young woman, who put a human face on the immigration issue, to get a former Utah legislator to rethink a tough immigration law he pushed.

Republican Stephen Sandstrom, a former state representative in Utah, said this week that it would be best for the country and the state to have part or all of the law that was modeled after Arizona's to be tossed out, The Salt Lake Tribune reports.

"At this point, I think it would be best for this country and the state to have him go ahead and overturn it -- at least take out parts of it," Sandstrom told Tribune Wednesday after a Republican-sponsored Latino Appreciation Day at the Capitol.

Sandstrom, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress last year, said he regrets pushing so hard for the measure in 2010. He said he now realizes it was the wrong approach, and that immigration enforcement should focus on undocumented immigrants who have committed other crimes.

Before his change of heart, the Orem Republican spoke at anti-immigration rallies for Arizona's well-known border hawk, Russell Pearce, and sponsored, rallied and pushed for Utah's measure.

His philosophical shift was triggered by a meeting in the summer of 2011 with a 19-year-old woman who was brought illegally from Mexico by her parents as a toddler. She told him that despite good grades, she had no future without a Social Security number and no ability to work legally.

"Nothing else I'd heard from anybody shook me to the core more than that statement," Sandstrom said Wednesday. "I thought this girl who put her hand over her heart and said the Pledge of Allegiance was in every way an American, and she really is an American."

He is one of several Republican lawmakers who have shifted their stance on immigration in recent months.

Rep. Mike Coffman, a Colorado Republican, has softened his stance on immigration reform – going from being firmly against any kind of legalization for undocumented immigrants to now supporting it.

Having Latino constituents who bring stories to his office about their immigration problems, he said in a recent interview with Fox News Latino, gave him a different perspective on the issues he once thought he knew.

“It’s different when you talk about immigration in the abstract,” he said of his own education about immigration. “It’s very different when you sit in front of a family, and [undocumented] children who grew up in this country, and who go to the same school you once went to.”

U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups heard final arguments regarding the law on Feb. 15 and said that he would issue a ruling soon.

The law, HB497, was passed in 2011 but was shelved shortly thereafter for a court review.

Utah was one of several states to mirror immigration enforcement laws after Arizona's well-known measure. The key provision in Utah's law is a requirement that police check the immigration status of a person arrested for a felony or a class A misdemeanor, while giving authorities discretion to check the citizenship of those stopped for traffic infractions and other lesser offenses. Class A misdemeanors include theft, negligent homicide and criminal mischief.

The law also includes a provision making it a state crime to transport and harbor undocumented immigrants.

Another provision allows a "warrantless" arrest if police have reasonable suspicion that a person has committed a felony and is an undocumented immigrant who has been ordered removed by an immigration judge or has been tagged for a federal immigration hold.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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