Landmark measure repeals ban on HIV-positive immigrants and visitors
By LOU CHIBBARO JR, Washington Blade | Jul 30, 3:00 PM
President Bush signed a sweeping global AIDS relief bill at a White
House ceremony Wednesday afternoon that includes language repealing
the U.S. ban on HIV-positive foreign visitors and immigrants.
The bill-signing ceremony took place less than a week after the House
of Representatives voted 303 to 115 to approve a Senate-passed version
of the legislation, which reauthorizes the highly popular U.S. foreign
aid program known as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief
The Senate passed the bill one week earlier by a vote of 80 to 16.
First Lady Laura Bush and Mark Dybul, director of the U.S. global AIDS
office, accompanied the president at the bill signing ceremony.
The president, along with a large, bipartisan majority in the House
and Senate, agreed to include a provision in the PEPFAR bill that
repeals a 1993 U.S. immigration law prohibiting HIV-positive visitors
from entering the country. The 1993 law to be repealed by the PEPFAR
bill also bars most foreign nationals with HIV from being eligible for
legal immigrant status.
However, as the president prepared for Wednesday's bill signing
ceremony, the White House had yet to disclose whether he and his
Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Mike
Leavitt, would approve one more administrative action needed to end
the U.S. ban on HIV-positive visitors and immigrants.
In 1987, HHS used its existing legal authority to add HIV to a list of
communicable diseases that disqualifies HIV-positive visitors from
entering the country as well as foreigners with HIV from being
eligible for immigrant status.
The PEPFAR bill that Bush signed allows the 1987 administrative policy
to remain in place unless HHS or one of its component agencies, such
as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, reverses the
An HHS spokesperson last week agreed to make inquiries into Leavitt's
position on the issue of repealing the HIV ban, but the spokesperson
did not get back with additional information by press time.
A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for the
president's position on the HHS administrative ban.
"The legislation Congress has passed will move us from the emergency
phase to the sustainability phase in fighting AIDS, tuberculosis and
malaria," said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), after the
House voted to approve the PEPFAR bill.
"It will authorize $48 billion over five years to provide life-saving
HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention for men, women and children in the
poorest countries of the world," she said.
Pelosi also noted that the bill would eliminate the HIV travel and
immigrant ban, a policy that Pelosi and Democratic leaders, along with
many Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate, have long opposed.
"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 Joe Solmonese,
president of the Human Rights Campaign. "The HIV travel and
immigration ban performs no public health service, is unnecessary and
The 1993 immigration law and the HHS policy directive putting the HIV
visitor and immigrant ban into place allow for some exceptions. But
groups like Immigration Equality, which advocates for immigrants who
are gay or who have HIV, have said the exceptions are limited and have
helped only a small number of HIV-positive foreign nationals seeking
access to the U.S.
Under the 1993 law and the HHS policy, foreign nationals seeking to
visit the U.S. can obtain a temporary waiver from the ban, which
allows short-term visits for tourism or business purposes. Foreign
nationals seeking a waiver must register their names and HIV status
with U.S. consular offices in their home countries in a process that
immigration activists say could violate privacy rights. Waivers also
place certain limitations on HIV-positive visitors.
The law and policy allows foreigners with HIV to be eligible for
immigrant status if they can demonstrate that an immediate family
member, such as a spouse, parent or child, who already has legal U.S.
immigrant status or citizenship, is dependent upon them for care and
support. Activists say U.S. immigration officials rarely grant this
exemption and that it is off limits to same-sex partners whose
relationships are not recognized under U.S. law.
Some Capitol Hill insiders have speculated that the Bush
administration might decide to leave the HHS policy in place,
preferring to let the next president decide whether to repeal it. That
would leave the ban in place until at least late January.
A spokesperson for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the presumptive
Democratic presidential nominee, said Obama opposes the ban and would
take action to end it if he's elected president.
A spokesperson for the campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the
presumptive Republican presidential nominee, did not return a call
seeking McCain's position on the issue.