BY Kerry Eleveld
October 30 2009 11:10 AM ET
During a signing ceremony for the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act, President Barack Obama announced Friday that the federal government would end its ban on travel and immigration to the U.S. by people who are HIV-positive, as first reported by The Advocate.
Obama made the announcement in the Diplomatic Room of the White House, where he told attendees that that policy was instituted 22 years ago "in a decision rooted in fear rather than fact."
"We are one of only a dozen countries that still bar people with HIV from entering our own country," he said. "If we want to be the global leader in HIV, we need to act like it."
The ban, first implemented in 1987 and codified into law by Congress in 1993, prevented non-U.S. citizens who were HIV-positive from traveling or immigrating to the United States unless the Department of Homeland Security granted them a waiver.
Congress passed the policy reversal last summer under the leadership of Sen. John Kerry, then-senator Gordon Smith, and Congresswoman Barbara Lee; President George W. Bush signed it into law, but the administration was unable to finalize the change before his term ended. President Obama thanked the former president for approving the initial steps to repealing the ban.
The new regulation, which is now on display here and will be officially published in the federal register on Monday, eliminates any travel and immigration restrictions that are tied to a person's HIV status. The Department of Health and Human Services put the wheels of change in motion in late June by publishing the proposed regulation to the federal register, which triggered a 45-day public comment period before HHS sent the rule back to the Office of Management and Budget for final approval.
Obama said the new rule would go into effect "just after the new year." Since January 1 is a federal holiday, the rule is expected to officially take effect January 4.
In the intervening months, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has directed its officers to place holds on any decisions regarding green card applications that are based solely on an individual's HIV status pending full implementation of the new rule.
Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of the LGBT lobby group Immigration Equality, welcomed the announcement.
“At long last, people living with HIV will no longer be pointlessly barred from this country,” Tiven said. "Every day, Immigration Equality hears from individuals and families who have been separated because of the ban, with no benefit to the public health. Now those families can be reunited."
Enactment of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act will fund critical HIV/AIDS treatment and some prevention programs through 2013 at about $2.5 billion annually, representing a 5% increase for all sections of the act. The program helps about 500,000 mostly low-income and uninsured people living with AIDS/HIV per year, according to the Government Accountability Office.
"We can't give Ryan White back to Jeanne, back to his mom," Obama said, speaking of Jeanne White-Ginder, who was in attendance. "But what we can do — what the legislation that I'm about to sign has done for nearly 20 years — is honor the courage that he and his family showed."
The Ryan White CARE Act, named after an Indiana teenager who contracted HIV through a blood transfusion and was diagnosed with AIDS in 1984, was originally passed in 1990 and has since been extended three times.
Full text of the president's remarks follow on the next page:
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