Washington - The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, praised the U.S. Senate 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 today with the Kerry-Smith provision by a vote of 80 to 16 and now moves to conference committee before being sent to the President.
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) had introduced an amendment to strike the Kerry-Smith provision from the PEFPAR bill. However, the efforts of Senators Kerry and Smith in addition to robust advocacy from HRC and our coalition partners secured enough opposition to the Sessions amendment that the Senator agreed not to bring it forward for a vote.
"We applaud the Senate for rejecting this unjust and sweeping policy that deems HIV-positive individuals inadmissible to the United States," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "We call on the leaders of the House and Senate to retain the Kerry-Smith provision in conference and ensure it is included in the final legislation sent to the President's desk."
"The HIV ban is ineffective, unnecessary, and simply bad public health policy," said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality. "It is especially harmful to gay and lesbian families, who do not benefit from the waiver available to opposite-sex couples. The Senate's change is welcome, and long overdue."
HRC has been a lead organization lobbying on Capitol Hill for the repeal. 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.
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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