- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Trump administration said Tuesday it has stopped issuing visas to some government officials and their families from Myanmar and Laos, in a move designed to punish both countries for failing to cooperate in taking back their deportees.

It’s the latest step to follow through on President Trump’s original set of immigration executive orders, where he outlined the get-tough approach his administration has pursued in the ensuing year and a half.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced the new visa restrictions, saying she’d flagged the two countries as recalcitrant. Under the law, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then had to impose visa restrictions.

“The suspension will remain in place until the Secretary Nielsen notifies Secretary Pompeo that cooperation on removals has improved to an acceptable level,” the Homeland Security Department said in a statement.

The restrictions went into place Monday.

For Myanmar, high-level government officials in the labor and home affairs ministries, and their families, won’t be able to get tourist or business visas.

For Laos, the U.S. stopped issuing business and tourism visas to high officials from the ministry of public security, and also restricted some diplomatic visas.

Countries that refuse to take back their deportees cause havoc within the U.S. immigration system because of a 2001 court ruling that limits how long the government can hold people. If their countries won’t take them back and if the U.S. can’t hold them, they have to be released into communities.

That often means serious criminals are released — some of whom go on to commit more crimes.

Mr. Trump has made substantial progress in cutting the list of recalcitrant countries from 23 near the end of the Obama administration to nine.

Of those, six are now actively facing visa sanctions: Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea and Sierra Leone, all of which were punished by the Trump administration last year, in addition to the new sanctions against Laos and Myanmar.

Gambia had faced visa sanctions at the end of the Obama administration, but they earned their way off the list of recalcitrant countries late last year.

Burma has been a recent addition to the recalcitrant list, joining last year. As of this week U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had 20 Burmese in detention and 605 who had been ordered deported but weren’t detained.

From Oct. 1, 2016, through earlier this month the government had released 15 Burmese citizens, compared to 23 who were deported.

For Laos, which has been off and on the naughty list several times this decade, the numbers are worse. More than 4,600 Laotians awaiting deportation have been released into American communities. By contrast the government was able to deport just 12 over the last 21 months.

The Burmese embassy didn’t return messages while the Laotian embassy didn’t answer calls and its phone system wouldn’t accept messages.

U.S. law allows even broader punishments, including halting visas for all citizens of a recalcitrant country.

But sanctions against government officials alone have proved effective in the past.

When the Bush administration used them on Guyana in 2001, that country quickly changed court and allowed deportation of nearly all the people in the pipeline.

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