Legislation to Repeal the HIV Ban Moves Out of Committee for a Full Vote by the Senate
Passage Will Ease HIV Travel and Immigration Restrictions, Restore Compassion to HIV Policy, Send a Message Against Stigmatizing HIV-positive People
New York, NY, March 13, 2007- Immigration Equality hails the first major step in fifteen years to repeal the ban on HIV-positive foreign nationals entering the United States. The provision to repeal the ban is included in legislation to reauthorize the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a comprehensive effort to address global HIV/AIDS issues. PEPFAR was voted out of the Foreign Relations committee today and will proceed to a vote by the full Senate. For over two decades, the United States has excluded both HIV-positive travelers and "green card" applicants who are HIV-positive
"The United States has enforced this antiquated policy for too long with no public health rationale for discriminating against HIV-positive people in such a severe manner." said Victoria Neilson, Immigration Equality's Legal Director. "Immigration Equality and the coalition of activists fighting against the ban are encouraged that years of hard work resulted in this major step. We are confident that this vote by the full Senate will be successful and will move the United States one step closer to lifting the HIV immigration ban."
"We appreciate the support by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and now urge the full Senate to repeal this unjust and sweeping policy that deems HIV positive individuals inadmissible to the United States," said Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Joe Solmonese. "There remains no public health rationale for treating HIV more harshly than other communicable diseases. This draconian policy must end." HRC, America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality, worked with Immigration Equality on this issue.
HIV is the only medical condition singled out in the Immigration and Nationality Act as a ground of inadmissibility - creating unnecessary stigma and discrimination against foreign nationals who are HIV-positive. If passed, the PEPFAR bill will remove the anti-HIV language from the statute and restore the determination of whether HIV is "communicable disease of public health significance," to the discretionof the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
In 1987, Senator Jesse Helms offered the ban as an amendment to a bill to fund availability of the antiretroviral drug Zidovudine (AZT). The law passed almost unanimously by Congress, in part as a political trade to obtain the funds for AZT.
In April 1989, Dutch AIDS educator Hans Verhoef was jailed for several days in St. Paul, Minnesota when he tried to enter the United States to attend the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in San Francisco. This led to international outrage and a boycott of the conference by activists in 1990. No international conference on HIV/AIDS has been held in the United States since then.
In October 1992, the ban led to the quarantine of about one hundred HIV-positive Haitians at a U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, once again sparking outrage by the international and human rights communities. In 1993, President Bill Clinton tried to issue an Executive Order to eliminate the ban and brought the issue into the political spotlight once more.
At the urging of Senator Helms the ban was codified by Congress in 1993, as a climate of fear about HIV and prejudice toward HIV-positive people continued.
The policy which was rooted in the homophobia of Senator Helms, continues to disproportionately affect LGBT individuals since close family relationships with U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents are generally required to seek waivers and same-sex relationships are not recognized under current immigration law.
Immigration Equality has been a longtime national leader in the fight to lift the ban. As the only national organization fighting for the rights of LGBT and HIV-positive immigrants, Immigration Equality worked to create a comprehensive plan to lift the ban that included advocacy, public education and legal assistance. In anticipation of the vote, Immigration Equality is reaching out to key supporters in the Senate and working with other allies to ensure passage.
"When the United States finally stops discriminating against HIV-positive people we will send a powerful signal to the world that it's not acceptable to stigmatize the millions of people living with this disease." say Ms. Neilson "With today's news, we feel that moment is drawing near."
Zaheer Mustafa, Immigration Equality Communications Coordinator
office: 212.714.2904 /cell: 516.448.9559 email:Zmustafa@immigrationequality.org
"Reproduced with permission - Immigration Equality"