Thursday, July 31, 2008

President Bush Signs Law Lifting HIV Travel Ban, But HHS Regulations are Still in Place

We received the following news release from the Human Rights Campaign.  There are several reports that President Bush lifted the HIV ban for the United States, but actually the ban simply reverted from a statutory ban to an administrative ban.  It remains in place until the Secretary of Health and Human Services lifts it.  The U.S. was one of the first countries to impose an HIV travel ban, despite public health evidence that such a ban would be counterproductive in many instances.

Hat tip to Rex Wockner.


Brad Luna | Phone: 202/216.1514 | Cell: 202/812.8140
Trevor Thomas | Phone: 202/216.1547 | Cell: 202/250.9758

President Signs Bill Repealing Discriminatory HIV Travel and Immigration Law
HRC calls on Department of Health and Human Services to update regulations

WASHINGTON - The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, today called on the Department of Health and Human Services to update its regulations following the President's signing of legislation to reauthorize PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.  Included in this measure was a provision to repeal our nation's discriminatory law barring HIV-positive visitors and immigrants.  The PEPFAR bill passed the Senate on July 16 and the U.S. House passed the bill last week.

"We appreciate the President signing the repeal of this unjust and sweeping policy that deems HIV-positive individuals inadmissible to the United States," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.  "The HIV travel and immigration ban performs no public health service, is unnecessary and ineffective. We thank our allies on the Hill who fought to end this injustice and now call on Secretary of Health and Human Services Leavitt to remove the remaining regulatory barriers to HIV-positive
visitors and immigrants."

HRC has been a lead organization lobbying on Capitol Hill for the repeal and will continue to work to ensure that Department of Health and Human Services' regulations are changed.  The Human Rights Campaign has worked closely with the offices of Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Gordon Smith (R-OR), as well as Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the sponsor of an effort to repeal the ban in the House of Representatives.  Both Sen. Kerry and Rep. Lee participated in a national media conference call held by HRC in March.  In addition to action alerts urging members to contact their Senators, HRC and Immigration Equality drafted a coalition letter on behalf of more than 165 organizations in support of the Kerry-Smith provision in the PEPFAR bill, and directly lobbied numerous Senate offices on the repeal measure.

In December of 2007, Senators Kerry and Smith introduced legislation, the HIV Non-Discrimination in Travel and Immigration Act (S. 2486), to repeal the ban.  In the House, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced similar the legislation, H.R. 3337, in August 2007.  The travel and immigration ban prohibits HIV-positive foreign nationals from entering the U.S. unless they obtain a special waiver, which is difficult to obtain and can only allow for short-term travel.  Current policy also prevents the vast
majority of foreign nationals with HIV from obtaining legal permanent residency in the United States.

The ban originated in 1987, and explicitly codified by Congress in 1993, despite efforts in the public health community to remove the ban when Congress reformed U.S. immigration law in the early 1990s.  While immigration law currently excludes foreigners with any "communicable disease of public health significance" from entering the U.S., only HIV is explicitly named in the statute.  For all other illnesses, the Secretary of Health and Human Services retains the ability, with the medical expertise of his department, to determine which illnesses truly pose a risk to public health.

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