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It's been a long journey, but 29-year-old Luis Canales is ready to cast a ballot in his first ever presidential election.

Today, Luis is a third-year law student at Villanova University, where he volunteers for the school's Clinic for Asylum, Refugee and Emigrant Services (CARES) program, a faculty-supervised clinic where students provide free legal representation to refugees, immigrants, and asylum-seekers in the U.S. Just years earlier, he was among them, a Honduran asylum-seeker trying to navigate our country's convoluted immigration system.

Luis holds the shoes he wore during his travels to the U.S. from Honduras. Photo courtesy of Luis Canales.


At age 16, in an attempt to escape a life besieged by gang violence, Luis fled his home in Honduras.

The 12th of 14 children born to a poor family in the town of Siguatepeque, Luis says he was active at school and in his community and vocal in his opposition to guns, drugs, and gangs. It was those stances that got him targeted by the gang MS-13. After being shot at by MS-13 members when he was 15, Luis had no choice but to leave the country.

"The trip was so horrible," he says, describing his 2004 journey to the U.S. "I used a cargo train in Mexico to make it to the United States. Even though I [faced] a lot of danger, and hunger, and suffering, and coldness, and everything else that you can think of, as being outside, on top of the cargo train, I just had in my mind: 'Luis, you have to keep on going. If you go back to Honduras, you're going to be killed.' That was my incentive to continue the trip."

The city cathedral in Comayagua, Honduras, near Siguatepeque. Photo by Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images.

Recounting his trip, Luis describes horrors that no teenager should have to witness. "I saw people falling from the train, being cut in half," he says. "One of the people, I actually heard him yelling when he was on his way down to the train wheels. ... Seeing those things was very difficult for me."

His first trip to the U.S. was cut short. Immediately upon arrival in Eagle Pass, Texas, Luis was placed in a shelter before eventually being returned home to Honduras. As a minor with no relatives in the U.S., he could not stay. Upon his return, he again found himself targeted by gangs.

In total, he made four trips to the U.S., eventually connecting with family in Pennsylvania, where he began the long process of establishing legal status.

It took five and a half years for Luis to be granted asylum in the U.S. He later became a permanent legal resident before becoming a full-fledged citizen in August 2014.

More than 7,500 miles worth of travel and years of legal maneuvering later, Luis made it.

Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images.

Immigration is a hot topic in the 2016 election, and it's certainly been on Luis' mind.

"I have been insulted by one of the candidates many, many times," Luis said, referencing Donald Trump. "You know, calling immigrants in general very bad words, and [saying] we only come to this country to take from the country."

Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric was a slap in the face to Luis, who not only went through the arduous process of teaching himself English but has taken pains to give back to others through his volunteer work.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at the second presidential debate. Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images.

"We immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers do not come here because we did not have anything else to do, or because we wanted an easy life," Luis adds. "We have come here for survival, for opportunities, for a better life for our children.  We do not come to take. We come to give, and we give back a lot, especially to those communities that have welcomed us. We work really hard to give back as much as we can."

This year, while tens of millions of people will vote, nearly half the country will probably sit this one out. If you're in the latter group, Luis hopes he can change your mind.

"Your vote is your voice," he says.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

Make your voice heard and vote.

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