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Clemons Ruland may become the first known HIV-positive person to legally visit the United States after he filed papers with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Monday, the day the HIV travel and immigration ban was officially lifted after 22 years of barring HIV-positive people from entering the U.S.
Ruland (pictured right), a Dutchman who will travel with his HIV-negative partner, Hugo Bausch, from the Netherlands, is scheduled to land Thursday at New York's JFK International Airport. According to the Netherlands-based NGO AIDS Fonds, which is sponsoring Ruland's travel to the U.S. after he won an essay contest, Ruland and Bausch simply plan to spend a week touring New York, shopping, and visiting friends.
Paul Zantkuijl of AIDS Fonds said his organization has been working alongside others to change the policy for years and wanted to celebrate their success by sending an HIV-positive person to the states.
"We all had to be patient, but finally this discriminatory and stigmatizing ruling has ended!" he said.
President Barack Obama announced in late October that the Department of Health and Human Services would be eliminating all travel restrictions tied to a person's HIV status starting in 2010. 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 without an official waiver. President George W. Bush signed the policy reversal into law in the summer of 2008, but his administration was unable to finalize the change before his term ended.
Ruland, now 45, was diagnosed with HIV in 1997 after being infected by an ex-lover in New York. He has been on an antiretroviral regimen since and the virus remains undetectable.
On the following page is the poem Ruland wrote as part of his entry in the contest to win a trip to the U.S.
* This story has been updated from its original form.
No more lies
No more pretending
No more hiding
In the crevices of exclusion
to the land
where once lay my destiny
in one viral load
Free I am
Free to travel
To hug, share, love
And once more be united
Alive and proud
I turn to you, America
America, here I come
Come as I am