Committee Approves Senate Bill with Provision to Repeal Discriminatory HIV Travel and Immigration Ba

by HRC Staff

Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Approves Bill

WASHINGTON - The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, praised the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations today for approving an important provision to repeal our nation's discriminatory travel and immigration ban on HIV positive individuals. The provision was secured by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) and is part of the Senate's legislation to reauthorize PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The underlying legislation, authored by Senators Joe Biden (D-DE) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), now moves to the Senate floor, however a date has not yet been determined.

"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 President Joe Solmonese. "There remains no public health rationale for treating HIV more harshly than other communicable diseases. This draconian policy must end."

In December of 2007, Senators Kerry and Smith introduced legislation, the HIV Non-Discrimination in Travel and Immigration Act (S. 2486), to repeal the ban.

"We know the urgency of this fight and the effectiveness of PEPFAR, and today we took a step forward in fighting this disease smarter, harder and with greater fairness and common sense than ever before," said U.S. Sen. John Kerry. "The inclusion of these reforms will end a discriminatory law that stigmatizes people with HIV, while putting us on a path to save millions of lives with the best vaccines available."

"The United States is a country founded on the principles of acceptance and freedom and should not forbid individuals with HIV - including AIDS experts - from entering the United States," said U.S. Senator Gordon Smith. "It's time to get rid of this thoroughly outdated law."

In the House of Representatives, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced the legislation, H.R. 3337, in August 2007.

"The HIV/AIDS travel and immigration ban is a discriminatory violation of human rights, has no basis in public health, and should be repealed," said Congresswoman Barbara Lee. "Changing the law is the right thing to do and will align our immigration policy on HIV/AIDS with the existing policy in place for all other diseases."

HRC and Immigration Equality, a national organization working to end discrimination in U.S. immigration law, collaborated together to help lift the discriminatory travel and immigration ban.

"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 the upcoming vote by the full Senate will be successful and will move the United States one step closer to lifting the HIV immigration ban."

The travel and immigration ban prohibits HIV positive foreign nationals, students, and tourists from entering the U.S. unless they obtain a special waiver that only allows for short term travel. Current policy also prevents the vast majority of individuals with HIV from obtaining legal permanent residency.

The ban was originally enacted in 1987, and explicitly restated 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 immigrants with any "communicable disease of public health significance" from entering the U.S., only HIV is explicitly named in the statute. For all other illnesses, the Secretary of Health and Human Services retains the ability, with the medical expertise of his department, to determine which illnesses truly pose a risk to public health.

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

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