WASHINGTON - The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, praised the U.S. House of Representatives today for approving the repeal of our nation's discriminatory law barring HIV-positive visitors and immigrants. Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) secured a provision to repeal this ban in the Senate's legislation to reauthorize PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The PEPFAR bill passed the Senate last week with the Kerry-Smith provision by a vote of 80 to 16. Today, the House approved that Senate-passed bill by a vote of 303-115 and it now heads to the president's desk.
"Congressional backing for the repeal of this unjust and sweeping policy that deems HIV-positive individuals inadmissible to the United States is a huge step forward for equality," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "The HIV travel and immigration ban performs no public health service, is unnecessary and ineffective. We thank our allies on the Hill who fought to end this injustice and now call on President George W. Bush to sign the PEPFAR bill into law and ask Secretary of Health and Human Services Leavitt to remove the remaining regulatory barriers to HIV-positive visitors and immigrants."
HRC has been a lead organization lobbying on Capitol Hill for the repeal and will continue to work to ensure that Department of Health and Human Services' regulations are changed. The Human Rights Campaign has worked closely with the offices of Sens. John Kerry and Gordon Smith, as well as Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the sponsor of an effort to repeal the ban in the House of Representatives. Both Sen. Kerry and Rep. Lee participated in a national media conference call held by HRC in March. In addition to action alerts urging members to contact their Senators, HRC and Immigration Equality drafted a coalition letter on behalf of more than 165 organizations in support of the Kerry-Smith provision in the PEPFAR bill, and has directly lobbied numerous Senate offices on the repeal measure.
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. In the House, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced similar the legislation, H.R. 3337, in August 2007. The travel and immigration ban prohibits HIV-positive foreign nationals from entering the U.S. unless they obtain a special waiver, which can only allow for short-term travel. Current policy also prevents the vast majority of foreign nationals with HIV from obtaining legal permanent residency in the United States.
"I am so pleased that we were able to eliminate the unjust and discriminatory policy banning HIV/AIDS positive people from entering the United States," said Rep. Lee. "It's far past time we got rid of this shameful policy. I'm glad we were able to remove the statutory ban and pass this bill less than two weeks before the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City."
The ban originated in 1987, and 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 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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