It would have been hard not to know about it, as the move has been chewed over at length since it was first mooted last October. The maneuver, an attempt to staunch the flood of illegals that critics blame for a rise in violent crime and other social ills, was delayed until the end of January and again until March 1 after last-minute negotiations with Indonesia, where most of the illegal workers are from. Anyone unlawful found in Malaysia can now be fined, imprisoned or even beaten.
Human-rights activists argue that such nationwide clean-outs—some 400,000 workers were deported in 2002—are futile as many illegals go into hiding or slip back into the country after being expelled. The raids also miss the main culprits, the employers and recruiters who sneak workers into the country, says activist Aegile Fernandez—a point government officials themselves concede. "We have produced 113 employers in court in the last two years, but they have never been convicted," sighs Ishak Mohamed, the Immigration Department's senior enforcement officer. "They have very good lawyers."