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Bush signs bill to end HIV travel ban, but…

Repeal does not end all travel impediments

US President George W Bush signed a bill Jul 30 that ended a 15-year statutory ban on the entry of people with HIV/AIDS into the United States.

The discriminatory policy, which has been in place since 1993, has restricted HIV-positive travellers and immigrants from entering the US unless they obtain a special waiver, which is difficult to get and only allows for short-term travel.

The policy has also disproportionately affected gays, since close relationships with US citizens or legal permanent residents are generally required to obtain HIV-ban waivers, and the current immigration law does not recognize same-sex relationships.

“With the statutory ban no longer in place, we can now begin to frame a fair and sensible HIV immigration policy,” said Victoria Neilson, legal director of Immigration Equality, in a press release.

“It is time to leave behind this vestige of fear and ignorance about AIDS that gripped the United States in the late 1980s.”

Although US immigration law excludes foreigners with any “communicable disease of public health significance” from crossing the border, HIV is the only communicable disease that is explicitly named in law. By signing the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Bush restored jurisdiction to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to determine which diseases and specific cases actually pose risks to public health.

The Human Rights Campaign, the largest queer rights group in the US, is calling upon HHS to update its regulations now that PEPFAR has been signed.

“We appreciate the President signing the repeal of this unjust and sweeping policy that deems HIV-positive individuals inadmissible to the United States,” said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese in a statement.

“The HIV travel and immigration ban performs no public health service, is unnecessary and ineffective. We thank our allies on the Hill who fought to end this injustice and now call on Secretary of Health and Human Services [Michael] Leavitt to remove the remaining regulatory barriers to HIV-positive visitors and immigrants.”