Two years later, Cuban ‘tunnel runner’ still in limbo

The “tunnel runner” Miguel Padron is still waiting two years later for permission to work in Canada. Troy Shantz

Troy Shantz

A Cuban national who risked his life by entering Canada illegally through the St. Clair Tunnel two years ago remains in legal limbo.

Miguel Padron, 59, was living in Detroit when he decided to leave his rented home, a job and all his possessions to slip across the border from Port Huron, Michigan to Sarnia on the July 4th holiday.

He did not claim refugee status when he arrived and applied for a work permit.

“I’m still living (at the River City Vineyard Sanctuary) for two years still,” Padron said. “I don’t get any money from nobody. I don’t get any health care from nobody.”

Padron said he was told in January his permit application was being processed in Toronto, but he doesn’t know how long that might take.

“They don’t say anything concreto. Nothing. I’m still in the hole.”

Bart Devries, a Sarnia immigration consultant who worked with Padron last year before parting ways, said Padron could still be granted a work permit, but his residency in Canada is uncertain and he could be deported at any time.

Because Padron was already deported from Canada once before in the 1990s, his case is very complicated, Devries added.

“This can just take years before anything happens.”

Padron is a gymnastics coach by trade, and in September 2017, after his story was first reported in The Journal, an Ottawa company called Tumbler’s Gymnastics Centre contacted him and offered free transportation from Sarnia to Ottawa for a job interview.

But without legal working status the Centre eventually offered the job to someone else, Padron said.

Meanwhile, two other Cuban nationals made a brief stop in Sarnia recently. Padron, who has no affiliation with the two men, said they crossed the border on foot in Quebec before trekking to Sarnia.

He said he was told their families live near the Ontario-Michigan border.

Padron himself made the dangerous trek through the train tunnel beneath the St. Clair River because, he said, he felt a hateful backlash against immigrants in the U.S.

He often heard comments like ‘go back to your country’ and ‘‘you’re taking our jobs,’ he said.

“There’s a lot of hate over there. I handled it for 11 years. I can’t handle it anymore,” he said.

“Even people that worked with me tried to get rid of me. I never got fired in my 11 years because I’m a good coach.”

Padron watched the tunnel for hours to time the trains rolling by before venturing inside, carrying only a small bag.

Security alarms sounded in the dark while noxious gasses made him dizzy, but he emerged from the tunnel entrance an hour later and collapsed into some bushes on the Canadian side, where border agents found him.

Padron ran out of money shortly after arriving in Sarnia two years ago. He lives at River City and does odd jobs when he can find them.

“Sometimes, I cut the grass for somebody, make a little bit of cash, (so) I can eat properly.” he said.

“I don’t have any choice.”