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Kerry, Smith Introduce Legislation To End Discriminatory, Counterproductive HIV Law

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

Kerry, Smith Introduce Legislation To End Discriminatory, Counterproductive HIV Law

Senator John Kerry introduced legislation today to repeal outdated, misguided provisions in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) that bar HIV positive individuals from entering the United States, including HIV positive doctors and experts as well as refugees seeking asylum. The bill is co-sponsored by Senator Gordon Smith (R-Ore.)

"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," said Sen. Kerry. "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."

Frank Donaghue, Chief Executive Officer of Physicians for Human Rights based in Cambridge, MA applauded the introduction of the bill. "There have never been public health grounds for denying people living with AIDS admission to the United States," Donaghue said. "The current policy violates the human rights of people with AIDS and has stigmatized them for more than 15 years. We welcome the Kerry-Smith bill."

Since 1993, the INA has designated HIV as grounds for inadmissibility to the U.S. A cumbersome waiver option is available to those wishing to enter this country, but the process is incredibly restrictive. These obstacles result in an almost wholesale rejection of any HIV positive individual from the United States, no matter their reason for entry. Kerry's bill would strike the HIV restrictions from the INA and ask for a full review of the public health aspects of travel and immigration restrictions against those with HIV.

President Bush acknowledged that the waiver system was a problem on World AIDS Day in 2006 when he asked the Department of Homeland Security to streamline the process. However, the proposed regulations are arguably more restrictive and intrusive.

There are 12 proposed requirements of visitors and immigrants to this country that have HIV. The most egregious hurdles include: disclosure of HIV status to consular officials in the individual's home country; certification that the individual has in their possession all medication necessary for the duration of their stay in the U.S.; certification that no symptoms are being exhibited; and a commitment to avoid all high risk behavior while in the U.S.

What's more, it is all left to the discretion of the consular officers who likely do not have the medical knowledge to make these decisions. No guidelines are given on how to make these determinations and there is no appeal process whatsoever. If an HIV positive individual is given asylum in the United States, they are not allowed to obtain a green card or become a U.S. citizen - even if their asylum was given because of their HIV status.

Not only do these proposed requirements and the underlying law discriminate and infringe on people's civil rights, they also serve to isolate individuals with HIV and further stigmatize the disease.

Because of this law, international conferences on HIV/AIDS have been closed to the United States - hampering our country's ability to take a leadership role in the global fight against HIV/AIDS. The United States is one of only 13 countries that have an HIV travel ban, among countries like China, Iraq, Libya, and Sudan.

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