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US Senate may soon vote to end HIV travel ban

Existing law bars poz visitors, immigrants

The US Senate may vote to repeal a decades-old ban on HIV-positive visitors and immigrants as early as this week.

The repeal — an amendment to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) — was introduced by two senators earlier this year. The Senate is set to vote on PEPFAR and its amendments this week, according to media reports.

Democratic Senator John Kerry and Republican Senator Gordon Smith created the amendment, which would remove the HIV travel ban found in the Immigration and Nationality Act.

“Such a discriminatory policy has no basis in public health, let alone common sense,” they wrote in an editorial, published in the Washington Times in June.

Under the existing legislation, anyone trying to enter the US who tests positive for HIV can be declared ‘inadmissible.’ Border officials have the authority to deny entry for permanent residency and short-term visits.

It’s possible to obtain a waiver to the ban, but immigrant rights groups say they’re difficult to get.

“The ban is unfair, ineffective, and disproportionately harmful to LGBT immigrants and their families,” reads a press release from Immigration Equality. “While opposite-sex couples qualify for a waiver to the ban, same-sex couples do not.”

Human Rights Campaign has launched an online action campaign, asking Americans to email their senators and ask for their support to end the HIV travel ban.

Although the amendment to repeal the ban has a few outspoken opponents, the Washington Blade suggests the measure has wide bi-partisan support.

Activists are calling this the best chance to end the ban, which has been in place since 1993. A dozen countries still have bans on HIV-positive visitors and immigrants, including Saudia Arabia, Sudan, Libya and Russia. China announced last year that it would be easing its HIV travel ban.