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SALT LAKE CITY — Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on Arizona's immigration law, a federal judge could soon rule on Utah's enforcement act, and the man at the center of that hard-line approach is now promoting a more compassionate stand.
Two years ago Stephen Sandstrom led the charge for immigration reform in Utah and sponsored the controversial bill HB497.
"I think early on, I got caught up in the emotional part of, everybody here illegally is a bad person. Everybody here is illegal and needs to go," he said. "It was a good bill, but probably some of that rhetoric that went along with the bill I think maybe went a little too far."
Sandstrom traces the beginning of his transformation to an encounter after a political event with a young woman named Sarah.
"She told me a story and it just broke my heart," he said. "It wasn't until after she graduated from high school and she wanted to go to college that her parents finally told her she was here illegally."
Sandstrom could not forget her story and said he began to realize how many people are in similar situations through no fault of their own.
"We do not have a good immigration system in this country, and that is the core of the problem," she said.
Sandstrom said his change of heart didn't happen overnight. He had lengthy conversations with leaders from the Latino community, Bishop John Wester and leaders from the LDS Church.
Sandstrom has faced a lot of backlash and lost political support because of his moderate views, but he does not believe that is why he lost his bid for Congress. For the first time in almost 20 years, Sandstrom will not hold a public office, but he plans to stay involved in the immigration debate.
"I don't want it to be like it is helping me for a political victory," he said. "It is truly about doing the right thing."