U.S. Should Repeal HIV/AIDS-Related Travel Restrictions, Opinion Piece Says
It "seems unthinkable" that the U.S. -- the "country that has been the most generous in helping people with HIV" -- would "legally ban all non-Americans who are HIV-positive," Andrew Sullivan, a senior editor of Atlantic magazine, writes in a Washington Post opinion piece. However, the "leading center of public and private HIV research discriminates against those with HIV," he adds (Sullivan, Washington Post, 5/14).
A regulation included in a 1993 amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act only permits HIV-positive foreigners to obtain visas to enter the U.S. under limited circumstances. The regulation also requires HIV-positive foreigners to obtain waivers from the Department of Homeland Security before they can receive visas.
Draft rules proposed by the Homeland Security Department that would change U.S. HIV-related travel rules have not been finalized. Some advocates and Democrats have objected to the proposed rules, saying that the rules do not improve the situation.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March approved a President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief reauthorization bill (S 2731), which includes a provision that would lift some of the travel restrictions. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) has sponsored a House version of the amendment (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/25).
Sullivan, who is HIV-positive, writes that with "great lawyers, a rare" type of visa, a "government-granted HIV waiver and thousands of dollars in legal fees," he has "managed to stay in" the U.S. However, because he his HIV-positive, he is "not eligible to become a permanent resident," according to Sullivan.
HIV is "the only medical condition permanently designated" in the Immigration and Nationality Act "as grounds for inadmissibility" to the U.S., Sullivan writes, adding that the restrictions "can be traced to the panic that dominated discussion" of the virus "two decades ago." Many non-Americans with HIV "live in fear of being exposed" and "have to hide their medications when entering the country for fear of being discovered by customs or immigration," according to Sullivan. He adds, "Couples have been split up and torn apart," and international HIV/AIDS conferences "have long avoided meeting in the United States because of the ban, which violates [United Nations] standards for member states."
The travel restrictions have "lasted so long because no domestic constituency lobbies" for their repeal, Sullivan writes, adding that immigrants or visitors "with HIV are often too afraid to speak up" and that the restrictions are "largely unenforceable." The "result is not any actual prevention of HIV coming into the United States but discrimination against otherwise legal immigrants who are HIV-positive," according to Sullivan.
"In the end, though, removing the ban is not about money," Sullivan writes, adding, "It's a statement that the United States does not discriminate against people with HIV and does not retain the phobias of the past." In addition, it is "worth remembering that we are talking about legal immigrants and visitors, people who go through the process and seek to participate and contribute to this country," according to Sullivan. "People with HIV are no less worthy of being citizens of the United States than anyone else," Sullivan writes, concluding, "All we ask is to be able to visit, live and work in America and, for some of us, to realize our dream of becoming Americans -- whether we are HIV-positive or not" (Washington Post, 5/14).