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US Senate votes to repeal HIV travel ban

One step closer to abolishing decades-old law

The US Senate voted Jul 16 to repeal a discriminatory law that bars HIV-positive visitors and immigrants.

In a vote of 80 to 16, the Senate approved the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief — a multi-billion dollar plan to fight HIV/AIDS worldwide. Earlier this year, Democratic Senator John Kerry and Republican Senator Gordon Smith amended PEPFAR to also include a repeal of the HIV travel ban.

PEPFAR passed with that amendment intact, despite efforts by Republican Senator Jeff Sessions to stop the repeal of the travel ban.

“Today we are one step closer to ending a discriminatory practice that stigmatizes all those living with HIV, squanders our moral authority, and sets us back in the fight against AIDS,” said Kerry in a statement.

If approved by the President, the bill would remove the anti-HIV language from the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Existing laws — codified by Congress in 1993 — give border agents the authority to refuse entry of those who are HIV-positive, from tourists to those seeking permanent entry. Waivers are very difficult to obtain.

Queer rights groups and HIV activists hailed the outcome of the Senate vote.

“We applaud the Senate for rejecting 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. “We call on the leaders of the House and Senate to retain the Kerry-Smith provision in conference and ensure it is included in the final legislation sent to the President’s desk.”

Those comments were echoed by Immigration Equality, an advocacy group for queer and HIV-positive immigrants. Rachel B Tiven, the organization’s executive director, says the decision is long overdue.

“The HIV ban is ineffective, unnecessary, and simply bad public health policy,” said Tiven in a press release. “It is especially harmful to gay and lesbian families, who do not benefit from the waiver available to opposite-sex couples.”

Only a dozen countries have bans on HIV-positive visitors, including Russia, Sudan, Saudia Arabia and Lybia. China announced last year that it would ease its HIV travel restrictions.