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Congress Repeals HIV Travel and Immigration Ban
 
HHS must now act to end discrimination against HIV-positive travelers
Contact: Zaheer Mustafa, Immigration Equality Communications Coordinator
office: 212.714.2904 /cell: 516.448.9559 email: Zmustafa@immigrationequality.org
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New York, NY, July 30, 2008 - Today President Bush acted to end the statutory ban on entry to the U.S. by people with HIV.  Until now, only HIV was singled out in the immigration law for exclusion.  In signing the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Bush repealed the statutory ban on HIV-positive tourists and immigrants, and restored jurisdiction to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to determine whether HIV is a "communicable disease of public health significance."
 
"The United States has finally ended the practice of mandating discrimination against HIV-positive people.  By removing the statutory ban on entry for HIV-positive foreign nationals, Congress has sent a clear signal that we can't fight discrimination and stigma abroad until we end them at home.  Congress has done its part - now it's time for HHS to act," said Victoria Neilson, Legal Director of Immigration Equality. 
 
 Under the ban, which had been in place since 1993, HIV was the only disease that rendered travelers and immigrants inadmissible by Congressional fiat. All other decisions on whether a disease prevents admission into the U.S. are left to the discretion of HHS.
 
"With the statutory ban no longer in place, we can now begin to frame a fair and sensible HIV immigration policy," said Neilson.  "The Department of Health and Human Services should act swiftly to remove HIV from its list.  It is time to leave behind this vestige of the fear and ignorance about AIDS that gripped the United States in the late 1980's.  Today everyone knows that you can't get AIDS from sitting next to someone on an airplane or sharing a bathroom - American policy should reflect this."
 
Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) led the effort to repeal the HIV ban.  Said Senator Kerry, "Today President Bush signed the PEPFAR reauthorization bill into law.  Not only does this represent a profound commitment to fighting the AIDS epidemic globally but it also finally eliminates the discriminatory travel and immigration ban on individuals with HIV.  I am proud to have sponsored this initiative and to have worked with so many superb organizations like Immigration Equality on its passage."
 
Immigration Equality, the national voice for LGBT and HIV-positive immigrants and their families, provides legal advice, representation, and advocacy for those affected by the HIV ban.  The policy disproportionately affects LGBT individuals, since close family relationships with U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents are generally required to seek HIV ban waivers, and same-sex relationships are not recognized under current immigration law.
 
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About the Ban
 
In 1987, Senator Jesse Helms offered the ban as an amendment to a bill funding the availability of the antiretroviral drug Zidovudine (AZT).  The law passed almost unanimously by Congress, in part as a political concession 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 1990, the Public Health Service of HHS proposed eliminating all non-airborne diseases from the list, leaving only active tuberculosis.  These changes were derailed by massive protest from right-wing activists, who exploited public fear and ignorance about how HIV was transmitted.
 
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 in the international human rights community.   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 Don Nickles the ban was codified by Congress in 1993, as a climate of fear about HIV and prejudice toward HIV-positive people persisted.   
 
The policy disproportionately affects LGBT individuals, since close family relationships with U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents are generally required to seek HIV ban waivers, and same-sex relationships are not recognized under current immigration law.
 
Immigration Equality is 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 and their families, Immigration Equality worked for years on a comprehensive plan to lift the ban that included advocacy, public education, and legal assistance.  Leading up to the vote, Immigration Equality reached out to key supporters in the Senate and worked with other allies to ensure passage.
 
Immigration Equality is a national organization that works to end discrimination in U.S. immigration law, to reduce the negative impact of that law on the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and HIV-positive people, and to help obtain asylum for those persecuted in their home country based on their sexual orientation, transgender identity or HIV-status.