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Bill may ease US HIV travel restrictions

Two American senators have introduced legislation that would make it easier for HIV-positive people to enter the US.

Democratic Sen John Kerry introduced the bill, co-sponsored by Republican Sen Gordon Smith, on Dec 14, a little over a month after the Department of Homeland Security proposed a new waiver for HIV-positive people crossing the border into the US.

Current American regulations ban all HIV-positive people from entering the US. The proposed new waiver would allow some HIV-positive people to enter for short stays, provided they bring all the HIV medication they’ll need with them, prove they’ve got health insurance accepted in the US and promise not to engage in ‘risky’ behaviour.

Critics say the proposed waiver is even more restrictive and intrusive than the status quo.

“My legislation will end this draconian law,” said Kerry in a statement. “The attempts to fix this law through a complex waiver system, while admirable, still don’t do anything to rectify the discriminatory underlying problem.”

If passed, the Kerry-Smith bill will repeal the provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act that bar HIV-positive people from entering the US. The bill also calls for a full review of the public health considerations of travel and immigration restrictions against people with HIV.

Martin Rooney, who was recently fingerprinted and turned away from the US border after telling a customs official he is HIV-positive, says he is “hopeful but also realistic” about the bill.

“It’s great the bill is on the floor,” says Rooney, founder of Out in Surrey and Emperor I of the Imperial Sovereign Court of Surrey. However, he suspects the bill will be swept under the rug unless it’s “tagged with a bill including something Bush wants.”

Meanwhile, Rooney says a march is being planned on both sides of the border to bring more attention to the issue in March.