Three months after a change in the law HIV-positive travellers to the US are still being turned back at the border.
US law may now say there is no ban on people with HIV, but the regulations in place remain the same.
“Until the regulations change, nothing has changed in terms of HIV-positive people visiting the US,” says Victoria Neilson, the legal director of New York-based Immigration Equality. “HIV is still on Health and Human Services’ list of communicable diseases.”
In July US president George W Bush signed into law a bill extending $50-billion in funding for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief through 2013. Along with it an amendment eliminated the ban on people living with HIV from visiting the United States.
But until the department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rewrites its regulations, anyone with HIV who wants to visit the US must obtain a 30-day waiver from a US consulate. Neilson says the US Department of Homeland Security — which has responsibility for some border control issues — supposedly streamlined the waiver process.
“Someone has to prove he doesn’t currently have any symptoms that are infectious,” she says. “They have to prove they have enough medicine or aren’t currently on medication, that they have sufficient funds to cover hospitalization. We don’t really see that as streamlining.”
Ryan Peck, the executive director of the HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic of Ontario, says he tells people nothing has changed at the US border.
“I just inform people that this is the law and you could be turned back,” he says. “As a lawyer I can’t advise people to smuggle their meds in. Maybe another community group could.”
One HIV-positive man who contacted Xtra says he was refused entry in October even though he was only going to Buffalo airport to fly to Ecuador.
The man, who wished to remain anonymous, says he was asked if he had any medical conditions, and showed the border guard his HIV medication. He says he was photographed and fingerprinted and transported back across the border.
“He said, ‘You’re being a danger to our public health,’” the man says he was told. “I’m really not a danger to anyone. I’m being medicated.”
Peck says such cases are still common.
“They can’t visit their families, their friends,” he says. “They lose their money for their flight, their hotel. It’s gross. It’s so wrong.”
But both Neilson and Brian Moulton, associate counsel for the US-based Human Rights Campaign, say they’re confident the regulations will be changed.
Moulton says both the secretary of HHS and the head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have committed to removing HIV.
“They have both represented in a public way that they are in the process of putting together a regulation that will remove HIV,” says Moulton.
Neilson says she doesn’t think the departments are delaying the changes until after the new US president takes office.
“They have said this is going to be part of this administration’s legacy,” she says. “We’re taking that at face value. It seems that putting out regulations, there’s a whole raft of bureaucracy that has to be gone through.”