The new year always comes with a feeling of sadness for times past. One thinks of conversations we should have had with loved ones now gone, of times we should have been more grateful, work we could have done better, time we could have used more wisely, acted more nobly. Time lost is gone forever.

But at times like these, one also feels compassion for the suffering of those around us. One cannot help but empathize with workers laid off in the government shutdown – not so much those with high salaries and money in the bank but the ones who clean the bathrooms at national parks or cook the meals in federal prisons and make barely enough to pay the rent and cover other bills.

Then there is Bristol, Connecticut, retired firefighter Bill Sutter, 67, whose limited health insurance cannot cover the bills and pay therapists to help him walk and talk after he suffered two strokes and throat cancer, leaving his wife Rose unable to hire health aides to help her cope.

But for me the saddest case, because it was so unnecessary, was that of Isaias Iriarte, a restaurant owner in Plainville, Connecticut, deported to his native Mexico the day after Christmas. Iriarte came to the U.S. in 1991, 27 years ago. Hardworking, he and his wife opened a small grocery store specializing in foods from his native Oaxaca in 2002, later converted to a restaurant. Well-respected, the couple has two daughters, Jalinne, a sophomore at Central Connecticut State University, and Bitzania, a senior at Plainville High School.  

Law-abiding, Iriarte had no problems with the authorities. But he made one mistake: going back to Mexico after 10 years to visit his dying mother. He was apprehended on the border coming back and returned to Mexico, which made him liable for deportation if he came again.

Friends, relatives, elected officials and townspeople had a rally for him after he was arrested Dec. 7 while making purchases for the restaurant. Republican state Rep. William Petit, who attended the rally on Iriarte’s behalf, said, according to the Hartford Courant, that the United States must remain a nation of laws but that it needs a coherent immigration policy offering a realistic path to citizenship for people like Iriarte.

Also, laws have to be applied equally and with compassion. There are people from all over the world among the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., including 579,000 from Europe, Canada and Oceania. Judging from the anecdotal evidence of media accounts, only people of color are being deported. I have not seen a news account of any European or Canadian being deported.

Because Iriarte had been apprehended and sent back to Mexico 27 years ago, Immigration and Customs Enforcement denied the appeal of his attorney for a hearing before an immigration judge. ICE put him on a plane to Mexico without even notifying his family, left worrying whether they can survive.

Connecticut is one of nine states that lost population from 2017 to 2018. It needs immigrants precisely like Iriarte and his family, who will work hard, start new businesses, pay taxes, have children and educate them. The nation as a whole would be losing population, a worldwide trend among developed nations, without the inflow of immigrants.

Catherine Rampell, writing in The Washington Post, states that in 2017 the United States saw the fewest babies born in 30 years. And though it is not as badly off as Japan where in 2018 there were fewer births since comparable records began in 1899, it could soon be heading in the same direction.

People – of all colors – are our most precious natural resource.

(Moises Sandoval is a columnist for the Catholic News Service.)