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Stephen Sandstrom, the man who sponsored, rallied and pushed for an enforcement-only immigration law when he was in the Utah Legislature and once drew inspiration from Arizona immigration hardliner Russell Pearce said Wednesday he hopes a federal judge tosses out his law.

"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 said.

U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups heard final arguments on the law in February. The law requires local police to check legal status of suspects during felony stops, detention or arrests, but stopped short of the Arizona law's requirement to check legal status on any lawful stop.

Waddoups has yet to rule on the law, which was signed by Gov. Gary Herbert in March 2011. It only took effect for a few hours before Waddoups issued a temporary restraining order and blocked it from being enacted. Waddoups wanted to wait until the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled on the Arizona enforcement-only law, SB1070 — a decision rendered last year that upheld the controversial "show me your papers" provision..

Sandstrom said he knows he pushed the issue hard and now regrets it.

"I think it was a wrong approach, basically trying to identify everybody in the state and basically criminalizing everyone here who is undocumented — including these kids," Sandstrom said. "I think it was the wrong approach and it could've been better to where we just targeted the people here doing crimes."

Sandstrom made the comments shortly after appearing at a Republican-sponsored Latino Appreciation Day at the Capitol. His transformation from tough immigration hawk who spoke at anti-immigration rallies in Arizona with Pearce — the sponsor of SB1070 — to embracing the Dream Act and denouncing his past was part of his personal journey he told the crowd of about 100.

He said an undocumented 19-year-old girl had approached him after a town hall meeting in the Summer of 2011 and told him she had no future despite getting good grades in school.

"Nothing else I'd heard from anybody shook me to the core more than that statement," Sandstrom said to the crowd. "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."

Ron Mortensen, who worked closely with Sandstrom on HB497, only said he "couldn't see what was in a person's heart" after hearing of Sandstrom's comments.

Sandstrom spoke at the event as Republicans try to bridge a wide gulf between their party and the Latino community. In the 2012 presidential election, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney garnered just 28 percent of that voting bloc while President Barack Obama picked up 72 percent. Some Republicans have argued their anti-immigration rhetoric had been too harsh during the campaign and some have sought to embrace comprehensive immigration reform.

The Latino Appreciation Day was clearly a partisan affair. No Democrats spoke at the event and only a handful stuck around to watch the speakers, which included Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, House Speaker Becky Lockhart and Utah Republican Hispanic Assembly Chairman Marco Diaz.

Lockhart urged Latinos to join the GOP.

"The Republican Party has room for Hispanics," she said. "We want you there."

Diaz said Latino Day was supposed to be a bipartisan affair but there was a split after Democrats wanted to invite and honor other groups — including Pacific Islanders, blacks and Asians. The result was Democrats hosting Diversity Day Thursday at the Capitol.

"We felt we wanted to continue with Latino Day and continue the event we had initially started to plan for," Diaz said. "We've done this for years."

But Melodia Gutierrez, Latino Outreach Director for the Utah Democratic Party, said she was sad to see the event split in two.

"We're a point where we need to broaden our nets and seek engagement among all minorities," she said. "I think anytime there's a split in events, it only hurts the community."

The event featured dancers from Viva el Folklore and the Student Violin Club from Jackson Elementary School.

Twitter: @davemontero