Immigration gets overhaul
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Immigration gets overhaul

In just under two months, the Immigration Bureau will officially begin arrests and tough new penalties against foreign law-breakers. The programme is in the hands of Pol Lt Gen Nathathorn Prousoontorn, one of the most experienced immigration officers.

He has spent some time drawing up new laws, rules and regulations, as part of the first major overhaul of immigration enforcement in decades.

The main targets of the new controls are foreigners who abuse the open-door policies that encourage tourism. The problem has two main facets. There are many foreigners who work illegally in Thailand on expired or tourist visas. And there are others who enter for unfriendly purposes -- violent crime, human and drug trafficking, and serious fraud.

Immigration policies never are easy. By coincidence, as Pol Lt Gen Nathathorn kicked off his new set of programmes, the United States also was embroiled in escalating immigration problems. One popular discussion was a proposal by the eccentric businessman Donald Trump.

He is emerging as a possible candidate for the US presidency in the November election, and his populist campaign has plumbed several deep spots in the national psyche. One is to bar entry to the country to all Muslims except US citizens, who number about seven million.

Mr Trump's scare tactic in the name of battling terrorism has, thankfully, won little support anywhere, and none at all from legislators, the bureaucracy or other political candidates. But there is a similarity of sorts with problems in Thailand. Mr Trump's impossible call for a ban on Muslims reflects security fears and loopholes, just as in this country.

In America, that is because of the terrorist attack by a recent Pakistani immigrant mail-order bride and her US-citizen husband in California. There are concerns in Europe because of both terrorist murders and criminal acts, particularly what is being called the "rape culture" of many recent migrants and refugees.

In Thailand, immigration authorities and many informed citizens welcome tighter checks on tourists and crackdowns on crime by foreigners, both organised gangs and individuals, including those who flee criminal charges abroad and try to settle and hide out in Thailand.

This is the very basis of the light-hearted slogan and serious programme called, "Good guys in, bad guys out". It is simplistic but not simple. The first step in enforcement is largely over. It consisted of defining the acts that make a "bad guy" and preparing to crack down.

There has been plenty of warning. When the new rules go into effect in less than eight weeks, scofflaws, overstayers and illegal workers will not be able to claim ignorance of the law -- or the punishment.

Kudos to Pol Lt Gen Nathathorn, his superiors and those currently running the country. This will not be a campaign aiming at making headlines and quotas of mass arrests. If successful, which it can be, it won't burden the courts and prisons.

The main goal at the beginning is to find the "bad guys" who defied the warnings. The Immigration Bureau intends to take away the one thing these men and women want: Thailand itself.

There are plenty of carrots in the campaign. "Good guys" can apply for visas befitting their status. Foreigners wishing to work can apply for the necessary permits. But police mean to make it difficult or preferably impossible to work while overstaying old visas or even no visas at all.

Those who fail to leave when their visas are up will be expelled. But for the first time ever, they will not be allowed to turn around and come back in. Formal blacklists will bar offenders from returning to Thailand for anywhere between one and 10 years. Tough enforcement merits public support.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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