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A 21-year ban to entry for foreigners who are HIV-positive was lifted in July when President Bush signed the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center, which has advocated for an end to the ban, commends members of Congress and the President for acknowledging that outdated discriminatory policies against individuals with HIV should not be a part of the U.S. immigration system.

"Lifting the HIV ban is a significant victory in the fight for equal rights for immigrants who have HIV or AIDS," said National Immigrant Justice Center Director Mary Meg McCarthy. "Now, HIV and AIDS will be treated the same as any other communicable disease under our immigration laws."

Under the PEPFAR provision, the Department of Health and Human Services will determine on a case-by-case basis whether an HIV-positive immigrant seeking admission to the United States presents a public health risk. The process for individuals with HIV will be the same as for individuals with other illnesses the government considers "communicable disease of public health significance."

Despite this important improvement in law, more work must be done to fully align U.S. immigration policy with 21st-Century science. The National Immigrant Justice Center strongly encourages the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to release regulations that remove HIV from the list of communicable diseases.

In 1991 and again in 1993, HHS issued proposed regulations seeking to remove HIV, along with all other illnesses except for active tuberculosis, from its list. However, Congress then amended U.S. immigration law to explicitly list HIV and AIDS as bar to admission to the United States, requiring a special waiver to obtain a visa for entry. In light of the recent repeal of this statutory bar, HHS should promulgate a corresponding rule as soon as possible.

With 15-years-worth of knowledge that has vastly changed our understanding of how HIV and AIDS is contracted and how it can be treated, the United States must end discrimination against HIV-positive men and women in our immigration laws.

 

Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center is a Chicago-based nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers through a unique combination of direct services, policy reform, impact litigation and public education. For more information visit www.immigrantjustice.org