U.S. Ban on Visitors With HIV Could End Soon

A two-decade ban on people with HIV visiting or immigrating to the United States may end soon through a Senate bill aimed at fighting AIDS and other diseases in Africa and other poor areas of the world.

BY admin

July 17 2008 12:00 AM ET

A two-decade ban
on people with HIV visiting or immigrating to the United
States may end soon through a Senate bill aimed at fighting
AIDS and other diseases in Africa and other poor areas
of the world.

The United States
is one of a dozen countries -- including Sudan, Saudi
Arabia, Libya, and Russia -- that ban travel and immigration
by HIV-positive people.

Even China, said
Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, recently
changed that policy, deciding it was "time to move beyond an
antiquated, knee-jerk reaction" to people with HIV.

"There's no
excuse for a law that stigmatizes a particular
disease," Kerry said Tuesday at a speech to the Center for
Strategic & International Studies HIV/AIDS Task
Force. Even people with avian flu or the Ebola virus
have an easier time than those with HIV when it come
to applying for visas, he said.

Kerry and Sen.
Gordon Smith, an Oregon Republican, are trying to repeal
the ban, first implemented in 1987 and confirmed by Congress
in 1993. The two have attached their measure to
legislation -- which the Senate may pass this week --
that would provide $50 billion over the next five years
to fight AIDS and other diseases in Africa and other poor
areas.

Foreign citizens,
students and tourists can apply for a
difficult-to-obtain special waiver for short-term visits,
but an HIV-positive person has little chance of
obtaining permanent residency.

Under current
law, HIV is the only medical condition explicitly listed
under immigration law. The Kerry-Smith provision would make
HIV equivalent to other communicable diseases where
medical and public health experts at the Health and
Human Services Department -- not consular officials at
U.S. embassies -- determine eligibility for admission.

Those with HIV
seeking legal permanent residency would still have to
demonstrate they have the resources to live in this country
and would not become a "public charge."

The HIV ban was
"adopted during a time of widespread fear and
ignorance about the HIV virus," said Allison Herwitt,
legislative director of the Human Rights Campaign, the
nation's largest gay and lesbian civil rights group.

Among the
consequences, experts on HIV and AIDS who are themselves
infected have been unable to attend conferences in the
United States. Students and refugees in the country
who may be at risk of infection have been reluctant to
seek testing or treatment.

"Health care
professionals, researchers and other exceptionally
talented people have been blocked from the United States,"
some 160 health and AIDS groups said recently in a
letter urging Congress to end the current policy.
"Since 1993, the International Conference on AIDS has
not been held on U.S. soil due to this policy."

Herwitt said some
HIV-positive people seeking visas lie on their
applications and then don't bring their medications. "It's
not only wrongheaded and discriminatory, but can also
cause people to not tell the truth."

Both President
George H.W. Bush and President Clinton sought to ease the
policy, and in 2006 the current President Bush asked the
Homeland Security Department to streamline the waiver
process. Congress so far has not gone along.

There's still
opposition.

Sen. Jeff
Sessions, an Alabama Republican, may offer an amendment to
eliminate the Kerry-Smith provision from the Senate bill.
Sessions cited Congressional Budget Office estimates
that the new immigrants coming in under the relaxed
policy could cost the government more than $80 million
over a 10-year period. "Most people just don't want to talk
about that."

Sessions said the
Health and Human Services Department already has
considerable flexibility to grant entry visas.

The measure would
offset costs related to new immigrants by raising
the price of applying for a visitor's visa by $1 for three
years and then $2 for the next five years.

The House version
of the Africa AIDs bill does not have the travel and
immigration provision, but advocates said it will be
included in the final version of the bill that goes to
the president.

Rep. Barbara Lee,
a California Democrat, is sponsoring companion
legislation in the House.

The Africa AIDS
bill is S. 2731. (AP)

Tags: Health

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