Migrant trail walk

Walkers travel along Highway 286 through the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge on the 2012 Migrant Trail Walk.

On Monday, Chris Amoroso started his fourth trek through desert heat from the Mexico border to Tucson.

The retired Green Valley physician takes the long walk to honor the suffering of people entering the country illegally now and his parents, who migrated from Italy 100 years ago.

"I’m walking this walk out of gratitude. I am the son of Italian immigrants. They, like the migrants that are crossing the desert, came for the same reasons, to feed their families and to send support back home," Amoroso said.

Soft-spoken and fit, Amoroso, 80, expects to be the oldest in a group of 50 people from several countries who will take the rigorous, seven-day 11th Migrant Trail walk that starts in Sasabe. Immigration activist group No More Deaths, churches and other humanitarian agencies are making the walk to call attention to thousands people who have died crossing the border.

In Pima County alone, Chief Medical Examiner Greg Hess said his office has documented 2,249 migrant deaths since 2001. March organizers say 6,000 have died since 1990, from Texas to California. Many immigrants have naively trusted smugglers only to be robbed, raped, ransomed or left behind if they turn an ankle.

"It's the same story, whether they come from Mexico or South America,” Amoroso said. “It hit me that I am a Dream Child. I was the first American-born descendant from that little village in Italy to become a physician."

Amoroso's parents migrated during World War I from Rocca Pia in the dirt-poor province of Abruzzi, east of Rome. His parents settled in the Italian neighborhood in Erie, Pa., where they ran a grocery store. Chris graduated from Allegheny College and attended medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. After a career in private practice, he was a pioneer in wellness medicine in the 1970s, working for Eastman Kodak in Colorado and teaching employees to exercise and eat well.

"I've had many blessings; a strong heart and body, a support system from my family, a rich career in preventive medicine and wellness. I’m blessed," Amoroso said.

Six nights out

Amoroso will need that strong heart as he and the other marchers leave the border and sleep in the desert for six nights. The walkers are out all day in the sun and sleep under the stars or in tents hauled in vans that accompany them.

While the trip is difficult, Amoroso knows the migrants crossing illegally have to tramp over rugged terrain to avoid Border Patrol agents. By comparison, he and the marchers walk along state Highway 286 north to Three Points, then east on Ajo Way, Highway 86, to Kennedy Park in Tucson.

A competitive walker and runner, Amoroso has had to learn to slow down and experience the walk and the other people.

Amoroso has written haiku, spare Japanese-style poems, about his experiences, moving from feeling hope far away the first day through a spirit of unity, to remembrance of sorrows past, to lightening spirits, listening to the silence and listening to the voices of migrants. Finally, he wrote "United we walk; praying migrants will survive; we are all migrants."

Changed lives

Another marcher, Chandra Russo of Ventura, Calif., said that the profound experience has changed the lives of some marchers.

"One woman said she had to change jobs to have more direct contact with immigrants so she left her job as a hospital administrator and took a job in education, so she was teaching immigrant youths," Russo said.

Russo, a sociology graduate student at the University of California Santa Barbara, said others have gone back to their churches and shared their experience on the march with their congregations, which gave them more standing in their churches.

Russo said many also feel isolated at home because few in their communities are as interested as they are in immigration issues, and they find fellowship on the trail.

Perhaps 100 people will see the marchers off at 2 p.m. on Monday in Sasabe, following a 10 a.m. press conference at Southside Presbyterian Church, 317 W. 23rd Street in Tucson. Some will walk just on Monday and others will drop in for a few days, but about 50 are expected to walk the entire 75-mile path, and perhaps 150 will be on hand next Sunday, Russo said.

The walk ends with a closing ceremony at 11:30 a.m. June 1 at Ramada 3 in Kennedy Park in Tucson.

"I am paying back,” Amoroso said of his participation. “I am 80 years old and can still walk in the desert with the young people. I am privileged to be with them."

Philip Franchine | 547-9738

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