2 min

HIV-pos man stopped at border told to seek redress from Homeland Security

Courtesy of Martin Rooney

Foreign Affairs minister Maxime Bernier says she regrets the “unpleasant situation” Out in Surrey’s Martin Rooney experienced last November when he was prevented from crossing the Peace Arch border into the US after revealing he is HIV-positive. But the minister stops short of taking on his cause.

Rooney wrote to his MP, Penny Priddy, detailing how he was fingerprinted and turned away from the US border after telling a customs official he is HIV-positive. Priddy forwarded Rooney’s email to Bernier.

“I regret the unpleasant situation that you experienced at the border,” Bernier says in a letter emailed to Rooney Jan 18.

“While I understand your concerns, as a sovereign state, the United States retains the prerogative to determine the screening procedures for the entry of foreign nationals into the country,” Bernier writes.

Current American regulations ban all HIV-positive people from entering the US without a difficult-to-obtain, one-time waiver. Rooney was not aware he needed a waiver. Many positive people refuse to apply for a waiver, worried their passports will be flagged, making further travel to the US and other countries impossible.

A new waiver proposed last November 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.

In the meantime, Bernier encourages Rooney to contact the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to request they review the decision not to allow him to cross the border through the DHS Travelers Redress Inquiry Program.

This is not enough, says EGALE executive director Helen Kennedy, arguing that the foreign affairs ministry needs to step up to the plate and help HIV-positive Canadians denied entry to the US.

“If they were interested in playing a role, they’d take this on and work on behalf of people in this situation,” says Kennedy.

“The reply was very interesting,” says Rooney. He called the DHS phone number given to him in the email and got voicemail. He left a message, but says he has not had his call returned.

Meanwhile, plans for a march on both sides of the Peace Arch border to raise awareness of the issue are still in progress. It is expected the march will take place Mar 16. EGALE also plans to take part.

For now, Rooney will wait and see if the march happens. If it doesn’t, “I will pursue all avenues available,” he says.