House Democrats Send Letter to Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff Objecting to New Rules for HIV-Positive People Visiting U.S.
Thirty House Democrats on Monday sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff objecting to new regulations for HIV-positive people visiting the U.S., the AP/Google.com reports. The lawmakers, along with gay rights groups, say the proposed rules might end up creating more barriers for HIV-positive visitors to the U.S. (Werner, AP/Google.com, 12/11). President Bush in December 2006 requested the waiver process that enables HIV-positive people to visit the U.S. be streamlined with new administrative rules. The new rules, proposed by the Department of Homeland Security, would remove a requirement that applications for a waiver be reviewed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and instead would leave waiver decisions to U.S. consular offices worldwide.
According to some critics, the new rules would require that HIV-positive visitors prove they are bringing with them to the U.S. an "adequate supply of antiretroviral medicines." Veronica Nur Valdes, a DHS spokesperson, said the current waiver rules already require that HIV-positive visitors "must be traveling with an adequate supply of drugs." Applicants for a waiver also would have to agree to not extend their visit to the country, and visits would be limited to two 30-day stays annually, according to Victoria Neilson, legal director for Immigration Equality. HIV-positive people who are found to be violating the rules could be permanently banned from entering the U.S. (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/6).
According to a White House fact sheet about the new regulations, the "administration is working to end discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS." It adds that under the new regulations, a "categorical waiver" will "enable HIV-positive people to enter the [U.S.] for short visits through a streamlined process." However, applicants seeking a waiver under the new rules will "still have to somehow persuade an official that they are of minimal danger, will not transmit the virus and will not cost the government money," the letter -- which was released on Monday by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) -- said. It added, "There would be no appeal process. Selecting this pathway would also require applicants to waive any right to readjust their status once in the [U.S.] -- a waiver not required under current policy."
Valdes said the new rules do provide a streamlined process for HIV-positive people to visit the U.S. Valdes did not comment on the letter but said the department will review it and respond. A public comment period on the new rules expired Thursday, but Valdes could not say when a final rule will be published, the AP/Google.com reports.
According to the Department of State, 139 people were found ineligible to travel to the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa because of having a communicable disease in fiscal year 2006. It added that 127 of these applicants challenged the finding and were able to obtain a visa, the AP/Google.com reports. Because these numbers apply to all communicable diseases and not just HIV/AIDS, the state department cannot provide a figure for only HIV/AIDS cases. The numbers also do not take into account people who were discouraged from applying for a visa because of their HIV-positive status or who did not report their status, according to the AP/Google.com (AP/Google.com, 12/11).
The letter is available online.