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Posts for January, 2010

HIV Travel Ban Lifted

Jim Burroway

January 5th, 2010

The HIV travel ban was officially lifted yesterday. One report has it that the first HIV-positive gay man arrived yesterday from the Netherlands. It turns out that couple won’t arrive until Thursday, so given the thousands of arrivals each day, it’s safe to say that the first arrival went unnoticed. As it should.

The Bush administration had approved the end of the travel ban in 2008, but the time-consuming process for changing the regulations weren’t completed by the end of Bush’s term. When Barack Obama took office, his administration put a halt to all pending Bush-era rule changes (including several environmental, occupational safety, and other rules) pending a review of the changes. Obama announced the end of the travel ban again in October, with the ban’s end taking effect on January 4.

Obama Expected To Announce End Of HIV Travel Ban

Jim Burroway

October 30th, 2009

The Advocate’s Kerry Eleveld is reporting that White House sources indicate that President Barack Obama is expected to announce the end of the HIV travel ban on Friday during a signing ceremony for the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act. The ban was first implemented in 1987 and became law in 1993. It bars HIV-positive non-U.S. citizens from traveling or immigrating to the United States. The ban is a legacy of the late Sen. Jesse Helms. Congress rescinded the law last year, and the Bush administration initiated the cumbersome rule-change process in order to lift the administrative application of the ban:

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.

If we’re lucky, the ban should be officially lifted shortly after Christmas.

Obama Administration May Lift Ban on HIV+ Travel and Immigration

Timothy Kincaid

September 24th, 2009

During the waning days of the Bush Administration, the President came to recognize that the country’s ban on travel and immigration for HIV positive persons was counter-productive and cruel. And, in a rare moment of compassion, he shepherded a bill through Congress allowing Health and Human Services to remove the ban.

Sadly, this change was included in the blanket reversal of last-minute policies when President Obama took office. But now it appears that the ban may finally be lifted. (Miami Herald)

Yesterday, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issues a memo which instructs USCIS officers to place a hold on any green card applications which would otherwise be denied simply due to the applicant’s HIV status. The hold is pending release of the final HHS rule change which will completely eliminate the ban.

The memo signals that the administration is very close to final repeal of the ban, and is now instructing agencies to be ready for the change. USCIS is clearly expecting guidance from HHS very soon, and has decided to hold applications by HIV-positive applicants rather than deny them, as the new rule will no longer prohibit their entry into the country.

Another Jesse Helms Legacy Begins To Fall

Jim Burroway

July 30th, 2008

President George Bush today signed the sweeping President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) into law. This bill vastly expands U.S. aid to combat HIV/AIDS overseas. It also carries a repeal of the so-called Helms Amendment from 1993, which barred foreign travelers and immigrants with HIV from entering the country.

While the travel ban is now removed from law, it is still in place as a matter of public policy. In 1987, the Department of Health and Human Services used its existing legal authority to add HIV to a list of communicable diseases that disqualifies HIV-positive visitors from entering the country. While the HHS is no longer required by law to keep the ban in place, it is authorized to designate any communicable disease as a reason to refuse admittance.

So far, neither the Administration nor HHS are commenting on whether administrative policies will change now that the ban is lifted. According to The Washington Blade:

Some Capitol Hill insiders have speculated that the Bush administration might decide to leave the HHS policy in place, preferring to let the next president decide whether to repeal it. That would leave the ban in place until at least late January.

A spokesperson for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said Obama opposes the ban and would take action to end it if he’s elected president.

A spokesperson for the campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, did not return a call seeking McCain’s position on the issue.

Sen. Sessions Seeks To Retain HIV Travel Ban

Jim Burroway

July 14th, 2008

PEPFAR amendmentSen. Jeff SessionsEfforts to repeal the prohibition on travelers with HIV from entering the U.S. has taken a tortured path. It had been held in the Senate under a filibuster, which ended last week on a 65-3 vote. Before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) named Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as the senator who was trying to quash the travel ban’s repeal. The repeal is part of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief or PEPFAR.

Now we learn that Sen. Sessions has introduced an amendment to keep the United States in the same company of such enlightened states as Sudan, Russia, Libya and Saudi Arabia. The Human Rights Campaign has asked its members to email their senators.

End of HIV Travel Ban Bottled Up In the Senate

Jim Burroway

June 27th, 2008

What does the US have in comment with Sudan, Russia, Libya and Saudi Arabia? We are among the twelve countries that prohibit HIV-positive non-citizens from traveling to those countries. What’s more, HIV is the only condition that is designated by law as grounds for inadmissibility to the United States. Bird flu, SARS, leprosy and tuberculosis are in the clear, but HIV is banned.

This ban was put in place by President Reagan and Sen. Jesse Helms during the AIDS hysteria of the 1980′s. But now there is widespread support to repeal the ban, support that extends to President George Bush. But the PEPFAR bill (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) has remained bottled up in the Senate by a group of seven Republican Senators, including David Vitter (R-LA), who has admitted to using the services of the so-called “D.C. Madam.”

HIV+ Canadian Stopped At The Border

Jim Burroway

March 31st, 2008

The United States is one of only thirteen countries in the world which bans travelers with HIV from entering the country. This puts the U.S. in the distinguished company of Iraq, China, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Sudan, Qatar, Brunei, Oman, Moldova, Russia, Armenia, and South Korea.

Nice company. And America’s offensive enforcement of that ban mirrors what one might expect from any one of those other twelve:

The Surrey, B.C., man was on his way to Bellingham, Wash., for the Remembrance Day long weekend last November to shop, with the Canadian dollar trading at about $1.07 against the greenback. After lining up for four hours to reach the U.S. customs booth, he was asked where he worked.

“I said I was on disability. He said what’s my disability. I said I have HIV,” said the 47-year-old, who was diagnosed in 1989.

The customs officer told him he needed a special visa waiver to enter the country, even though Canadians do not require a visa to travel to the United States.

“He hauled me into a backroom. … He put on a set of rubber gloves to hold each of my fingers. Nobody else wore rubber gloves. Then he fingerprinted me, photographed me, ran me through the FBI’s most-wanted list and told me to go back to Canada and not return until I came back with a waiver,” Mr. Rooney said. “I felt like I was being treated like a terrorist.”

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a bill sponsored by Sen. John Kerry to lift the travel ban soon. Then maybe the U.S. can join the community of civilized nations. Like Canada.