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January 04, 2010

Category: HIV & AIDS

After 22 Years, HIV Travel and Immigration Ban Lifted

"The United States of America has moved one step closer to helping combat the stigma and ignorance that still too often guides public policy debates around HIV/AIDS," said HRC President Joe Solmonese.

Washington - The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, hailed the announcement that a ban on HIV positive visitors and immigrants entering the country, first established in 1987, has been lifted. A regulation promulgated by the Obama administration last summer and finalized in November goes into effect today, removing HIV from the list of communicable diseases that bar foreign nationals from entering the United States.

"The United States of America has moved one step closer to helping combat the stigma and ignorance that still too often guides public policy debates around HIV/AIDS. Today, a sad chapter in our nation's response to people with HIV and AIDS has finally come to a close and we are a better nation for it," said HRC President Joe Solmonese."This policy, in place for more than two decades, was unnecessary, ineffective and lacked any public health justification."

In July 2008, President Bush signed into law, as part of the reauthorization of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a provision that removed the ban from statute and returned regulatory authority to the Secretary of Health and Human Services to determine whether HIV should remain on a list of communicable diseases that bar foreign nationals from entering the United States.

HRC has been a lead organization lobbying on Capitol Hill for the statutory repeal and working to ensure that Department of Health and Human Services' regulations were changed. The Human Rights Campaign worked closely with the offices of Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and former Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR), as well as Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the sponsors of the effort in Congress last year to repeal the ban. After the passage of the PEPFAR bill, HRC lobbied both the Bush and Obama administrations to remove the remaining regulatory ban. In July 2009, when the proposed regulation lifting the ban was open for public comment, more than 19,000 HRC members and supporters submitted statements in favor of ending the discriminatory policy.

The travel and immigration ban prohibited HIV-positive foreign nationals from entering the U.S. unless they obtained a special waiver, which was difficult to secure and then only allowed for short-term travel. The policy also prevented the vast majority of foreign nationals with HIV from obtaining legal permanent residency in the United States. The ban originated in 1987, and was explicitly codified by Congress in 1993, despite efforts in the public health community to remove the ban when Congress reformed U.S. immigration law in the early 1990s. While immigration law currently excludes foreigners with any "communicable disease of public health significance" from entering the U.S., only HIV had been explicitly named in the statute.

The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

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