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A key leader in the move to repeal Utah's guest-worker immigration law apologized Friday to lawmakers he labeled "traitors" for drafting and supporting the measure, saying it was "a poor choice of words."

Brandon Beckham, an Orem Republican, made the comment Wednesday at the Capitol and was quickly rebuked by lawmakers who both supported a repeal of HB116 and those who helped carry the bill to passage during this year's Legislative session.

"I am very passionate about the principles behind the immigration issue as it affects every aspect of our community," Beckham said in a prepared statement. "However, I certainly erred in my wording. While I disagree with HB116 supporters on the premise of the law, I never meant to attack anyone's character and I'm not above an apology."

He also said in the statement he personally called lawmakers to apologize.

Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, who was one of the chief architects for HB116, confirmed Beckham called him.

"He called, and I accepted his apology," Bramble said.

The fight over HB116 has led to a divide in the Republican Party in Utah, with a resolution seeking to repeal the law passing at conventions in Salt Lake, Utah and Washington counties before passing at the State Republican Party Convention by a 94-vote margin. That vote by delegates was 833-739.

The guest-worker law is scheduled to take effect July 2013, though supporters of the measure continue to work toward getting the federal government's approval to enact it. However, it takes effect regardless of federal government approval and could result in Utah being sued for enacting the measure.

The law would require undocumented immigrants living and working in Utah prior to May 2011 to register for a visa and then pay a fine of either $2,500 for entering the country illegally or pay $1,000 for overstaying a visa. They would also be subject to background checks before being issued the visa.

HB116 has inspired a lot of passionate debate within the Republican Party, with a broad swath of tea party members fighting to repeal the measure. Beckham said at the Capitol on Wednesday they'd like to see it repealed by Sept. 30.

But much of his message was lost when he said those who backed and drafted HB116 were "traitors to Utah."

On Friday, he was contrite.

" 'Traitors' was a poor choice of words and certainly wasn't meant as a slight against the legislators who voted for or sponsored HB116 nor others who currently support it," Beckham said. "The free voices of opinion among America's citizenry are what make this country truly special."

Twitter: @davemontero