ST. GEORGE – Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes spoke to around 200 students at Dixie Middle School Monday. Reyes touched on the role of the attorney general along with some cases his office has been involved in and is pursuing. He also spoke about his ethnic heritage and the value of education.
Reyes was in St. George for the Utah Sheriffs Association conference Monday and also joined select group of students in a small theater that afternoon at the middle school. The students were eighth and ninth-graders who are a part of the school’s minority population, which makes up an estimated 25 percent of the school’s overall student body.
School counselor Ann Spilker introduced Reyes to the students and said he is Utah’s first attorney general to come from a minority background. Reyes spoke somewhat about his background – a mix of Filipino and Spanish heritage – but it did not become a primary topic of discussion.
Reyes spoke about what he did as the state’s attorney general, saying that “a lot of people don’t know.”
In brief, he said the attorney general’s office is the state’s law firm. It defends the state’s interests in lawsuits and prosecutes major crimes.
Among the cases his office has been involved in, Reyes said, was the historic spice and heroin busts of 2013. He also briefly mentioned the state’s current court battle over same-sex marriage, then devoted a large portion of the time to the topic of human trafficking.
He asked how many of the students know about human trafficking and if they thought it was mainly a problem for Third World countries, and then said, “It does happen here in Utah.”
Though he did not mention him by name, Reyes told the students about Victor Rax, who was arrested in February for suspected drug trafficking, human trafficking, and sexual abuse. He later hanged himself while being kept at the Salt Lake County Metro Jail.
Part of what the accused drug kingpin allegedly did was sexually abuse undocumented Latino boys and then forced them to sell drugs at schools. He intimidated the victims and their families with threats of deportation or worse if they went to police.
“The reason why he was successful,” Reyes said, “was because people were afraid.”
However, the attorney general’s office protected the victims and their families, he said, which allowed them to come forward, and ultimately Rax was put behind bars. It was a brave thing for those afraid of Rax to do, Reyes said.
The attorney general also spoke about the proliferation of child pornography and how the attorney general’s office tracks it though tagged videos and images shared among possible offenders.
“I want you to help me and my team stop this kind of thing,” Reyes said, and went on to ask the students to alert the authorities if something on the Internet, like the people they or their siblings talk to online, seems suspicious. “You are our eyes and ears,” he told the students.
Reyes then gave the students the phone number for a secure and anonymous tip line for the attorney general’s office. He said they could call if they notice anything suspicious in their homes or communities. That number is 801-200-3443.
Reyes’ heritage and background
Shifting away from heavy topics, Reyes began to tell the students about his ethnic heritage and background, and also the value of getting an education.
Reyes grew up in the Los Angeles area and came from a family influenced by Spanish, Filipino, Hawaiian and Asian cultures. He said growing up wasn’t always easy, but something that helped get him through was the support of his family and an education.
“The No. 1 thing that helped me and my friends who are successful is education,” he said, and joked about how his mother would ground him if he faltered in his grades.
Reyes attended Brigham Young University where he met met his wife. They now have six children, the oldest of whom is 16, he said.
“I am very proud of my ethnic heritage,” he said. “You should he proud of your heritage.”
All people should be proud of where they came from, he said, whether it be the islands of the Pacific or the United Kingdom and everywhere in between.
Growing up, Reyes said, he was exposed to many different ways of thinking and values that experience. Having a diversity of opinions and beliefs isn’t a bad thing. Still, at the end of the day, he also said, “It only really matters who you are and what you do.”
He was presented with challenges along the way due to his ethnic background, he said, adding that some people aren’t all that bright when it comes to accepting others. Still, it didn’t stop him from becoming a member of a large law firm and eventually the Utah attorney general.
“Treasure who you are,” Reyes said. “You are Americans, but you each have a unique heritage.”
Though Reyes spoke to a small portion of the student body Monday, Spilker said his comments were video recorded and would be shown to rest of the school.
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