Members of Congress are trying to repeal a section of U.S. law that bars HIV-positive immigrants or foreign visitors from entering the country unless they get a special waiver. Those waivers usually are granted (or denied) on a case-by-case basis, though the Department of Homeland Security has the power to grant blanket waivers at its discretion, as it did for HIV-positive participants in the 2006 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS.
HIV was classified as a ?communicable disease of public health significance? in an amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act that President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1993. That designation makes simply having HIV grounds for being denied a U.S. visa. The amFAR (Foundation for AIDS Research) website notes that this law makes the United States ?one of only 13 countries with laws restricting entry by people with HIV.? The other countries include Armenia, Brunei, China (which plans to reform its law), Iraq, the Russian Federation, and Saudi Arabia.
Rep. Barbara Lee of California and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts are sponsoring the HIV Nondiscrimination in Travel and Immigration Act of 2007, a bill that would reverse that amendment. The bill would delete the language in the current law that makes HIV grounds for inadmissibility to the United States. It also would require the secretary of Health and Human Services to convene a panel of public health experts to review all policies that classify HIV as a ?communicable disease of public health significance.? If the respective House and Senate versions of the bill pass (they are currently being reviewed in committees), it would still have to be signed into law by the president, of course. You can track the bill?s progress at http://thomas.loc.gov.
?It?s incredible that the federal government still tolerates a ban that not only restricts AIDS experts with the disease but also refugees who are seeking asylum in our country,? Senator Kerry told The Out Traveler. ?My legislation will end this draconian law. The attempts to fix this law through a complex waiver system, while admirable, still don?t do anything to rectify the discriminatory underlying problem. That is why I have introduced this legislation to permanently strike this unfair provision from the books."