Deseret News: New U.S. citizens encouraged by Utah AG to infuse culture with American experience

SALT LAKE CITY — Victor Avalos waited 15 years to become a U.S. citizen.

“The immigration process is so long," the 43-year-old from Mexico said.

Avalos came to the United States in 2002 on a tourist visa to attend college and "have a better life," with "better opportunity" for himself and his future wife and children.

Financial problems and complications in the immigration process prevented Avalos from completing his degree, he said. But that didn't stop him from achieving his goal of providing a better life for his family.

After 15 years of working toward it, Avalos was declared a U.S. citizen by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on Wednesday during a naturalization ceremony at the Utah Capitol.

"We are very grateful that this day has finally come," said Avalos' wife, Kelly Avalos.

Despite the setbacks, Victor and Kelly Avalos now live in Woods Cross with their two children: Nathan, 14, and Isabelle, 11. Victor Avalos also holds a leadership position with Delta Air Lines.

It's those kinds of opportunities, Avalos said, that led him to leave Mexico for the U.S. in 2002.

“When you work really hard for whatever you’re looking for, you can achieve,” he said.

Joined by 124 other new citizens from 38 countries and six continents, Avalos took the oath of allegiance and received a citizenship certificate at the Capitol ceremony.

Daniel Souza, 36, of Brazil, has lived in the United States for 19 years, obtaining various visas to attend BYU and serve a mission in Houston, Texas, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he said.

After completing his mission, Souza earned a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism at BYU and then worked for the LDS Church-owned university. BYU also sponsored his visa and helped him obtain citizenship, he said.

Souza said his favorite thing about the U.S. is the ability to practice the freedoms of religion and expression.

"The rule of law is widely upheld in the United States, and it's welcomed,” he said.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, the first minority to hold that office, encouraged the new citizens to embrace their various cultures and "infuse them into the American experience."

"Find a way to teach people about the truths and the beauties that you bring,” Reyes said. "That is what has made America great throughout history, and that is what will continue to make America great."

He also encouraged the group to serve others around them as they "live the American Dream."

“You represent the present and the future of this great country, and one day I hope some of you will serve in appointed and elected office,” Reyes said. "Maybe your children will be the attorney general or the governor of Utah, or the president of the United States.”

Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, conducted the ceremony and spoke about its importance.

“I want to have the dignity and respect to show the people that have been through the naturalization process how important it really is,” Thurston said in an interview. "It’s a process that sometimes people don’t appreciate."

Event moderators also played a video message from Department of Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, who congratulated the new citizens.

To read story at Deseret News and view images, click here.  

Tom Ridge: It is too easy to ship deadly drugs in the mail

As a former governor and the first secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, my number one priority will always be the safety and security of our nation, so it is with alarm that I have watched the rise of the opioid epidemic across the nation.

Six Utahns are being killed in this growing epidemic every week, and more people are dying nationwide from drug overdoses than from gun violence and car accidents – combined. And as this crisis has evolved, it's turned a little-known security loophole in the global postal system into a serious national security threat, one that has created a pipeline for these deadly opioids directly into our communities.

Every day, nearly one million packages arrive in the United States without critical security data that would assist law enforcement in screening and stopping dangerous packages, including harmful, synthetic drugs. Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Congress took steps to improve the security of the postal system, passing legislation that required private couriers to provide advance digital information on packages from overseas. But while the private sector quickly implemented these new security protocols, the global postal system has yet to adapt – making it the favored avenue for bad actors abroad seeking to send dangerous, illegal packages into our country.

We are seeing this play out in the opioid epidemic. Powerful synthetic opioids, including fentanyl and carfentanil, are increasingly manufactured in foreign laboratories, purchased on the "dark web" from Chinese manufacturers and shipped through the global postal system. In fact, a February report by the U.S. – China Economic and Security Review Commission identified China as the primary source for illicit fentanyl in the United States.

This supply of deadly drugs from overseas is fueling the rapidly growing epidemic, and our communities are feeling the impact. In Utah, officials are undertaking admirable efforts to address this public health crisis, including the Utah Department of Health's new "Talk To Your Pharmacist" initiative and the formation of the state's new opioid task force, chaired by Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and Drug Enforcement Agency District Agent in Charge Brian Besser. However, officials are facing an uphill battle trying to combat this epidemic even as our communities are flooded with new deadly, synthetic drugs every day. To truly address this epidemic, we need to do all we can to shut down the easy supply of these drugs.

To read entire Op Ed, click here.


A Law Enforcement View of Judge Neil Gorsuch by Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes

Many positive things have been and will be said about Judge Neil Gorsuch leading up to his confirmation hearing. Deservedly so. There is a lot to like about him, including his intellect and commitment to textualism. But some have wondered: if Judge Gorsuch is confirmed as Justice Antonin Scalia’s successor, would he change the arc of Supreme Court decisions on criminal law and procedure, issues critical to a prosecutorial office like my own?

Judge Gorsuch’s record as a federal appeals judge seems to indicate the answer is no: His opinions, like Scalia’s, balance the interests of law enforcement with individual liberty.

Justice Scalia recognized that some of the government’s most consequential powers are those it brings to bear in the criminal justice system. We rightly count on the state to protect us from criminals and to appropriately mete out justice for broken laws. If the state failed to fulfill those functions, anarchy would reign. But the government’s powers to investigate crime and to indict defendants can result in serious intrusions on individual liberty. And government-sponsored loss of liberty leads to tyranny.

Those tensions caused the Founders to limit the government’s criminal-justice powers through structural safeguards enshrined in the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments. Good judges defend those safeguards, insisting that the government honor them while enforcing the law.

Justice Scalia and Judge Gorsuch both fit that mold. To show their similarities, consider these four excerpts, two from each judge’s criminal law opinions. Before jumping to the answers below, can you identify each passage’s author?

1. “Instead of setting forth exact limits of the government’s search and seizure powers in some numbingly detailed (and no doubt quickly antiquated) list of do’s and don’ts, the framers of the Fourth Amendment more simply and ingeniously forbade all ‘unreasonable searches and seizures.’”

2. “Drunken driving is a serious matter, but so is the loss of our freedom to come and go as we please without police interference. To prevent and detect murder we do not allow searches without probable cause or targeted [investigatory] stops without reasonable suspicion. We should not do so for drunken driving either.”

3. “The Fourth Amendment’s protection of the home has never been tied to measurement of the quality or quantity of information obtained.”

4. “Since time out of mind the law has prevented agents from exercising powers their principals do not possess and so cannot delegate. That is a rule of law the founders knew, understood, and undoubtedly relied upon when they drafted the Fourth Amendment—for what would have been the point of the Amendment if the government could have instantly rendered it a dead letter by the simple expedient of delegating to agents investigative work it was forbidden from undertaking itself?”

For those keeping score, the authors are (1) Gorsuch (dissenting in United States v. Nicholson), (2) Scalia (dissenting in Navarette v. California), (3) Scalia (in Kyllo v. United States), and (4) Gorsuch (in United States v. Ackerman).

So Americans of all political stripes need look no further than Judge Gorsuch’s own words to reassure themselves that he strives to strike the same careful balance as Justice Scalia on critical criminal-law issues. We can count on him, as Justice Gorsuch, to join opinions reminding prosecutors that their duty in a criminal case—for the good of all Americans—is not that they “shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.”


Fox13 | AG Reyes speaks at University of Utah symposium on fighting human trafficking

To watch broadcast:


SALT LAKE CITY -- It's a global problem we see in our own backyard. Every year, millions are caught up in human trafficking.

This week, community leaders who work to combat modern-day slavery spoke at a University of Utah symposium.

“I have heard of young women literally being snatched off the street,” said Laura Lederer, President of and the keynote speaker at the symposium. “But more often you hear the kind of the luring, the enticing, the Romeo-ing, the kind of false promises.”

Experts say we're only just beginning to realize how big human trafficking really is.

“It’s happening here in Utah,” Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said. “It's happening throughout the United States.”

Video you'll only see on Fox 13 shows the largest human trafficking bust in state history. In 2015, members of the Utah Attorney General's SECURE Strike Force served warrants on 11 massage parlors from Ogden to West Jordan.

“And certainly they probably don't think, you know, a few doors down that there could be a monster like Victor Rax, who was in West Valley City, Utah, for over a decade, torturing victims,” Reyes said.

Lederer is the president and founder of, an organization dedicated to fighting modern slavery.

“We’re actually doing a comparative analysis,” she said. “We're pulling 60 data points so that we can build victim profiles, perpetrator profiles, crime profiles, and we can understand a lot more by looking at the case-law.”

She describes the sex and labor trafficking industries as a triangle: supply, demand and distribution. But she said one side still requires a lot of work.

“We need to understand, who are the buyers—on both labor trafficking and sex trafficking? And how do we reach them to tell them and change their behavior so they're part of the solution and not part of the problem?” Lederer asked.

Speaking before a packed room, Reyes says the key is communities across the globe uniting to make a change.

“I don't think we can truly protect our communities locally unless we take a global approach, work with partners around the world, to keep human trafficking from coming into our borders,” he said.


The Herald Journal: App allows students to connect to crisis counselors

by Sean Dolan, staff writer

Two Cache County high schools are recommending a smartphone app that allows students to easily contact licensed social workers or submit a confidential tip about a peer who may be at risk of harming themselves or others.

Last September, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes unveiled the app, called SafeUT, citing statistics that show suicide is the leading cause of death of Utah children aged 10 to 17. Utah also leads the nation in the teen suicide rate.

“Those in crisis can now access live trained professionals at any time the way they are used to communicating, through a smart app on their phones,” Reyes stated.

The anonymous app allows students to call or text directly with trained professionals at the University of Utah if they are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts. If a student has a concern about someone else, they can submit a tip with options to include the person involved, the date, time, location and an option to add a picture. The categories available in a drop­down menu include abuse, cutting, cyberbullying, drugs, gangs, planned school attack, suicide and weapons.

Anyone can download and use the app, but schools that have enrolled in the program will have anonymous tips forwarded to school counselors.

Ridgeline and Mountain Crest high schools introduced the app to students Jan. 9 at the end of an anti­pornography assembly. The app will be rolled out to other Cache County schools later in the school year.

Jennifer Loscher, school counselor at Ridgeline High, said she likes having a tool that connects students to trained social workers and therapists. She said most crisis lines use volunteers who don’t know what signs to look for, what questions to ask or how to asses a threat level.

“It’s a pretty significant difference,” Loscher said.

The crisis and tip lines are available 24/7, while school counselors usually aren’t available outside of school hours.

“If a student needs to call and talk about being suicidal at two in the morning, which is when that usually happens, then they can call or text and talk with someone right then,” Loscher said.

In the app’s first month at Ridgeline High, Loscher said they have received about eight tips, with two or three related to suicide.

“Some of those are very benign, but some are pretty serious,” Loscher said. Tim Smith, Cache County School District public information officer, said the district previously used a program called, but the SafeUT app adds a new element of connecting students with counselors at UofU. He said having an anonymous tool is beneficial.

“I think the anonymous part plays into that kind of psychology (that) kids are going to be more willing to report some issues if they know they don’t have to be identified,” Smith said.

In the Logan City School District, Superintendent Frank Schofield said he has had conversations with some counseling staff about the app, but it has not been implemented.

“It’s a great tool; it just gives kids a chance to — when they are feeling stressed — it gives them a chance to respond,” Schofield said.


Utah AG Urges Swift Confirmation of President Trump's Supreme Court Nominee Judge Gorsuch

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes  released the following statement after President Trump nominated 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court:        

“I applaud President Trump's decision to nominate Judge Neil Gorsuch, a committed textualist and fellow westerner, to the Supreme Court of the United States,” said Reyes. “By any objective measure, Judge Gorsuch is a sterling, eminently qualified nominee in the mainstream of American jurists. His decade-long record on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, where he was confirmed by a voice vote in the Senate, shows that if he is confirmed, Judge Gorsuch will bring to the nation's highest Court a keen intellect, a vibrant pen, and a healthy respect for the judiciary’s proper role in our constitutional system. I urge the Senate to give Judge Gorsuch the up-or-down vote he deserves, and to confirm him as the next Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.”


AG Reyes Pays Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Courage, Conviction & Commitment

Attorney General Sean Reyes released the following Martin Luther King Jr. Day statement:  

“We in the Utah AGO are deeply appreciative to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as we join our nation in celebrating his life and work today. He was a great American, willing to turn us towards the better angels of our nature while he faced the demons of discrimination.

“Dr. King is probably best remembered by the casual observer for his soaring speeches that moved so many by the strength and majesty of his words. While that was an important element of his allure, it was what underlied those words that was truly remarkable: his courage, conviction, and commitment to lifting all people from oppression.

“He took his own pain and generations of suffering from his people and channeled it into an energy that transformed him into a supernova of change and progress. And our country is the better for it. It was true a half-century ago when he delivered his 'I have a dream' speech to the 250,000 people who had joined him for the March on Washington and it is equally true today as we strive to fulfill the hope and promise of his words.

"In many ways, the dream that Dr. King spoke of was the same one that brought the pilgrims to America, that drove the Founding Fathers to declare their independence, that prompted Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, and that continues to urge us forward today as we reach out the hand of fellowship to the afflicted and weary, the vulnerable and the weak. It was this dream--this hope--that brought my father to America to escape political persecution and that motivated my mother, a career educator, to fight for equal educational opportunity in at-risk and inner city environments.

"As a nation set on a hill, we have been blessed with great prosperity, and yet, there remains work to do. Whether it is providing shelter to the homeless, aid to refugees here and abroad, seeking to give relief to those in addiction's grasp, finding long-term solutions to intergenerational poverty, or continuing the fight against modern slavery and human trafficking, with each stride forward we seek to fulfill the dream of Dr. King.

"Dr. King once said that 'The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.' It is my hope, and my own dream, that Americans will always be willing to stand for what is right at all times. As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and seek to bring about a nation where children are judged not 'by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,' only continued remembrance of where we have come from, and where we are going, will bring us to that day when Dr. King's great dream is brought fully to life."


AG Reyes Applauds Designation of January as Law Enforcement Appreciation Month in Utah

“We in the Utah Attorney General's Office applaud the designation of January as Law Enforcement Appreciation Month in Utah. It is time that our state joins the national tradition of recognizing with special celebrations and commemorations our men and women in law enforcement and their families every first month of the year.

“Our men and women in blue are some of the greatest public servants we have. They deserve the highest respect and appreciation we can impart. Sadly, many of them today are disrespected, reviled, and even targeted for harm by some of the people they protect.  It is an honor for me and my team to work side-by-side with the law enforcement agents in the Utah Attorney General’s Office who bring tremendous expertise to handle some of the most complex investigations in Utah.  It is equally a privilege for our office to work on task forces and in the field with federal, state, county, city, and tribal officers who all make up our law enforcement family.  

“Like all other professions, law enforcement can find ways to improve and still has significant challenges to overcome in rebuilding trust with many communities. Like other professions, law enforcement will always have some bad actors who do not represent the vast majority of hard working, dedicated and honorable men and women within its ranks. However, unlike most professions, law enforcement professionals put their lives, their physical health, and their mental and emotional well-being on the line every day for our protection and safety.

“This month, as we celebrate together the contributions of the officers who make up the ‘thin blue line,’ our hope is that law enforcement and the communities they protect may come together to rebuild trust and strengthen ties.  To that end, with the support of the legislature and executive branch, the Utah Attorney General’s Office and the Utah Department of Public Safety are proud to announce the completion of the first year of statewide law enforcement de-escalation and critical incident training.

“We have already trained hundreds of officers and scores of agencies to minimize or eliminate violent confrontations with citizens.  The training curriculum includes live-action scenarios in a state-of-the-art virtual simulator combined with education on how to more effectively interface with individuals and groups from minority, refugee and non-English speaking communities and people with disabilities or mental health challenges.  This training not only prepares officers to better protect themselves, it much more effectively equips them to protect those they encounter in high-stress situations. Our hope is that it will drastically lessen the chances of citizens or officers being lost to violent interactions.

“Far too many of our uniformed men and women have lost their lives in the service of their communities. For those of us who have stood at vigils in the nation's capital, at funeral services around the state or at services at the Fallen Law Officer's Memorial, you cannot witness such sacrifice without a profound appreciation for those fallen and their families.  May God bless our officers with health, protection, honor, discernment, good judgment and humility.  My prayers go with them and their families every day.”


AG Reyes Expresses Gratitude On Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

"Seventy-five years ago, a great American generation was faced with an unprovoked attack on our nation. As bombers decimated the U.S. Fleet at Pearl Harbor—killing over 2,400, America's brave--both men and women, military and civilian—came together to fight back and defend our nation. They paid the ultimate price. Their cause was just and their efforts sanctified with their lives.

“I've stood many times at the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii. I've been moved to tears by the sacrifice of those on that day, throughout WWII and our history to protect liberty. As we honor their heroism, I hope we are grateful they did not shrink in the face of tremendous adversity.

"While there are increasingly fewer left of that greatest of generations, let us honor them today and recall their willingness to stand against tyranny. And let us live to emulate their courageous acts in our own times."



Attorney General Sean Reyes Honored by Boy Scouts of America with National Vale La Pena Award

SALT LAKE CITY—Over the weekend, the Greater Salt Lake Council of Boy Scouts of America awarded Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes received the national Vale La Pena Award for outstanding service to the community, with an emphasis on his volunteer service in the Hispanic community. 

Attorney General Reyes expressed his appreciation to the Council at the Silver Anniversary Holiday Gala on Saturday night November 19.

“It is such an honor to receive this recognition from Boy Scouts of America, an organization that has enriched my life and my family far more than I could ever repay,” said Attorney General Reyes. "Scouting teaches lifelong principles of service, community, and adventure. The Boy Scout slogan to 'do a good turn daily' guides me as I serve each day, and I am grateful that BSA has taught my own sons to follow the same path."

"Attorney General Reyes is the epitome of what Scouting is all about,” said Scout Executive Mark Griffin.  “Sean’s service to youth in the Latino/Hispanic community through Scouting and many other venues is noteworthy. We are proud to recognize him with this national award."

Attorney General Reyes is an Eagle Scout who has been active in leadership roles in Scouting throughout his life. He achieved the rank of Eagle at age 15, has been a Scout leader at various levels of Scouting, chaired a Scout unit and organized and presented at various Scouting events. His two older sons are Eagle Scouts and he has three younger sons who are working toward that goal. AG Reyes's father was active in Scouting as a boy in his home country of the Philippines, remained an active Scouter in his adopted country of America and instilled in his sons, both Eagle Scouts, a love of Scouting and its principles of service. 

Even prior to his current position as AG, Reyes was recognized locally and nationally with numerous awards and distinctions for his years of commitment to service and lifting communities throughout Utah and the United States. 

Reyes co-Founded the Somos Foundation providing millions of dollars in student aid and scholarships to Utah Latino high school and college students. He provided internships to many Latino students and led an English language learning program that lifted tens of thousands of immigrants by giving them tools for better jobs and opportunities. In working to fight against teen drinking and driving, human trafficking, child sexual abuse and teen suicide, Reyes has protected all teens and also done special media promotions and interviews for the Hispanic community. Reyes served on the Presidential and Congressional Commission to create a National Museum of the American Latino on the National Mall.  

Reyes also volunteered at colleges, high schools, elementary schools and juvenile detention facilities as well as homeless shelters, elder care facilities, churches, and veterans homes. He raised money for scholarships for students from underserved and refugee communities, offered free legal services to veterans, seniors, and others in need, raised money for families of fallen law enforcement officers and provided resources to fight child Pornography. He was a pioneer in creating opportunities for Hispanic and Asian small businesses. He founded and helped lead numerous non-profits creating a host of service initiatives.

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