By Kerry Eleveld
Originally published on Advocate.com October 29 2009 11:00 PM ET
President Barack Obama is expected Friday to announce an end to the HIV Travel and Immigration Ban during a signing ceremony for the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act scheduled for 11:50 a.m., according to a source at an agency that works closely with the Administration.
"My understanding was that this would be announced the same day as the Ryan White Act was signed into law," said the source, who spoke to The Advocate on the condition of anonymity. "The White House wanted to be out in front on this."
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 Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) and
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA); former President George W. Bush
signed it into law, but the Administration was unable to finalize the
change before his term ended.
The new regulation eliminates any travel and immigration restrictions that are tied to a person's HIV status. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) 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. HHS has now sent the final change to the Office of Management and Budget for approval, but the source said HHS would not be able to fully implement the new regulation for another 60 days following the president's announcement.
In the intervening months, the 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.
The Ryan White CARE Act, named after an Indiana teenager who contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion in 1984, was originally passed in 1990 and has since been extended three times.