Congress May
Strike HIV Travel Limits

Gay rights
activists are hoping to use a global AIDS relief bill
supported by the Bush administration to repeal a 15-year-old
law restricting travel to the United States by
HIV-positive people.

Activists oppose
the near-ban as discriminatory since HIV is the only
medical condition singled out in the Immigration and
Nationality Act for inadmissibility. Under a 1993
amendment to that law, foreigners with the virus can
obtain visas to come to the United States only under limited
circumstances and if they get a waiver from the Department
of Homeland Security.

Now language in a
bill extending the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS
Relief would delete the restriction. The bill, which directs
billions to AIDS programs worldwide and is
enthusiastically supported by President Bush, is set
for a vote Thursday in the Senate Foreign Relations

A House version
of the bill does not include language repealing the
travel ban. Democratic congresswoman Barbara Lee, who along
with Sen. John Kerry has introduced stand-alone
legislation to change the ban, said supporters thought
it would be easier to get the provision through the
Senate. They will try to ensure it stays in the final
version of the bill.

Lee and Kerry
joined Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese on a
conference call Tuesday to push for reversing the ban.

Kerry called
reversing the restriction ''a reform that is long needed.''
Lee noted that the International AIDS Conference has not
been held on U.S. soil since Congress passed the
restriction. Activists say the United States is one of
just a small number of countries to block entrance of
HIV-positive people.

''We're once
again very isolated on this policy in terms of the world
community,'' Lee said.

The Bush
administration has acknowledged problems with the ban and on
World AIDS Day last year proposed changing the rules to make
the process easier for HIV-positive people seeking
30-day stays.

But the draft
rule issued by the Department of Homeland Security, which
still hasn't been finalized, has been criticized by
activists and Democratic lawmakers who say it doesn't
improve matters. The draft rule would shift
decision-making from DHS headquarters to U.S. consulates in
HIV-positive travelers' home countries, but would require
applicants to agree to certain conditions, including
giving up the right to apply for a longer stay or
permanent residency in the U.S. (Erica Werner, AP)

Tags: Health, Health

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