Thailand definitely has a racist attitude toward Europeans.
Asian criminals are treated better than foreigners who wish to live here.
Most of these older foreign guys read, write and speak Thai like a local, but simply don't qualify because they are foreign looking.
All of the visa requirements reflect a racist policy.
I have met a few Lao, Vietnamese and Burmese that, only a few years ago, came here illegally. All eventually received amnesty, are now legal residents, with Thai ID cards and never report to any legal authority.
Meanwhile, quite a few of my 'European looking' friends have been here for decades and cannot get a residence permit or citizenship.
Some of these guys have Thai grandchildren and greatgrandchildren, but they all must use the year by year visa, which requires a yearly renewal and a police - immigration check-in every 90 days.
Compared to typical requirements in Europe, Africa, or anywhere in the Americas, Thai residence and immigration requirements for Europeans are difficult and strict, but do not exist for any Asians who break the law to come here.
The process described to me is this: an illegal immigrant from Laos or Burma works here a year or so, then is caught. If he doesn't have any money, he will stay in jail a month or two until he receives amnesty and then is made a legal resident.
Meanwhile, if a European is caught here illegally, he is fined, put in jail and then deported.
You would think the law applied to everyone in exactly the same way, but it doesn't.
Thailand discriminates against everybody, people are never treated equally unless they are a Thai.
Some sources say that foreigners are allowed to get permanent resident status in Thailand, maybe your friends are not well informed or they don't meet their requirements.
I don't think it is easy for Laotians to get citizenship in Thailand like the past. Some people might receive amnesty if they have relatives living in Thailand but most will get a kick up the backside and sent back to Laos.
Lao people who are caught working illegally in Thailand might be granted a temporary permit so they can cross the border and work for up to a year, generally it's cheaper for Thailand to employ Lao workers.