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Stephen Sandstrom: From immigration hard-liner to compassionate conservative

Immigration » A face-to-face meeting with one undocumented immigrant was the catalyst to his conversion.

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The short answer is he doesn’t want to.

At a glance

The Utah Compact

» Seeks federal solutions and urges state leaders to adopt reasonable policies addressing immigrants in Utah

» Says local police should focus on criminals, not civil violations of federal code

» Opposes policies that separate families

» Affirms Utah respects economic contributions of immigrants

» Asks for a humane approach to the issue

Sandstrom’s HB497

Originally modeled after Arizona’s SB1070 law, the law requires local police to check the legal status of suspects in a felony or Class A misdemeanor arrest. It provides local police the discretion to check for legal status on Class B or C misdemeanors. The law is on hold pending the outcome of a lawsuit.

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Parting ways » The 48-year-old Sandstrom lost decisively at the state Republican convention in April and quickly endorsed Mia Love over friend Wimmer as the 4th District nominee — though Wimmer wrote a scathing screed against Sandstrom that seemed to cast that relationship in doubt.

Wimmer — along with Republican Reps. Ken Sumsion and Chris Herrod — was a founding member of the Patrick Henry Caucus, and Sandstrom was one of its active members. Sandstrom recently parted ways with the caucus, which, among other things, supported a tough enforcement-only approach to immigration.

Wimmer said he won’t comment on Sandstrom other than to say, "I wish him the best."

Lee Rech, who worked with Sandstrom on his campaign, said the shift to a softer stance on immigration reform isn’t surprising to her.

"I know he’s a compassionate guy. Maybe he was caught up in the furor of the movement, and it was a more staunch stance then," Rech said. She believes he sees a need to give a fair shake to people who were brought into the country illegally as kids.

Clara said Sandstrom asked him to review campaign materials related to immigration, and he was surprised to see the word "compassion" used several times in the drafts.

"I actually told him to take out a few of the ‘compassions,’ " Clara said. "I also said that if I lived in the [4th Congressional District], I’d have supported him."

Sandstrom, who for the first time in 19 years doesn’t hold an elected office, said he would continue to work at his architectural firm and "try to build bridges" around the issue of immigration reform.

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He said he’s scheduled to speak at a Human Rights Commission group in August. He’s also planning to sign The Utah Compact.

"I was actually thinking about doing that earlier," he said. "I’m just not sure what the appropriate timing will be."

He also has a message for Sara.

"I honestly hope she feels optimistic," he said. "I think there is hope and that attitudes are changing."

dmontero@sltrib.comTwitter: @davemontero

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