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A LIFELINE

A LIFELINE
A LIFELINE

The air around the taco stand fills with the aroma of barbecue. Enrique watches workers pull strips of meat from a vat, put them on large chopping blocks and cut them up. Customers sit at long stainless steel tables and eat. Sometimes, when the stand closes, the servers slip him a couple of tacos.

Otherwise, for his only meal every day, he depends upon Parroquia de San Jose, or St. Joseph's Parish, and another church, Parroquia del Santo Niño, the Parish of the Holy Child. Each gives food cards to migrants. One is good for 10 meals and the other for five. Enrique can count on one meal a day for 15 days. The cards are like gold. Sometimes they are stolen and turn up on a meal-card black market.

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Each day, Enrique goes to one church or the other to eat. It is safe; the police stay away. Like clockwork, Leti Limon, a volunteer, swings open the double yellow doors at San Jose and shouts, "Who's new?"

"Me! Me!" men and boys cry out from the courtyard.

They rush to the door and jostle against it.

"Get in line! Get in line!" Limon is poor herself; she cleans houses across the river in Laredo, Texas, for $20 apiece. But she has helped to feed these immigrants for a year and a half, figuring that Jesus would approve. She issues the newcomers beige cards and punches the cards of those who enter. A parish priest counts 6% children.

One by one, the migrants stand behind chairs at a long table. At the head is a mural of Jesus, his hands extended toward plates of tacos, tomatoes and beans. Above him are his words: "Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome."

The lights dim, and two big fans spin to a stop, so everyone can hear grace. Some who have not eaten in two or three days cannot wait; from behind their chairs, they grab at the tacos with one hand, bread with the other.

Chairs screech as everyone pulls them out at once. Spoons of stew touch lips before bottoms hit the seats. In a clatter of forks against plates, beans, stew, tomatoes, rice and doughnuts disappear.

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