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.