Ban on HIV-positive visitors, immigrants continues

A Congressional Budget Office report suggests the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention favors lifting a 1987 regulation that bans HIV-positive people from visiting or settling in the United States.

The regulation remains in effect after President Bush signed a sweeping global AIDS bill July 30 that includes language repealing an immigration law that also barred HIV-positive visitors from the country.

“Based on information from the CDC, CBO expects that the agency would amend the regulations concerning communicable diseases to allow aliens with HIV or AIDS into the United States if [the global AIDS bill] were enacted,” say the CBO report, which was released in April.

“CBO expects that the amended regulations would take effect at the beginning of fiscal year 2010,” the report says.

The report, which provides a cost estimate for implementing the global AIDS bill, represents the only known document indicating the Bush administrations intensions on whether to retain or lift the remaining regulatory ban on HIV visitors and immigrants.

Lou Chibbaro Jr., for The Washington Blade

“Its certainly a positive sign,” said Trevor Thomas, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign.

But Thomas said HRC remains concerned that, without an explicit, publicly announced decision by the Bush administration to lift the administrative ban, top officials at the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) might decide to leave it in place. The CDC is part of HHS.

In 1987, HHS used its existing legal authority to add HIV to a list of communicable diseases that disqualifies HIV-positive foreign nationals from entering the country. The 1987 regulation also disqualifies foreigners from being eligible to apply for permanent U.S. resident status as immigrants.

The global AIDS bill that Bush signed on July 30 allows the 1987 administrative ban to remain in effect unless HHS or one of its component agencies, such as the CDC, reverses the policy.

Spokespersons at the White House, HHS, and the CDC have declined to comment on the administrations plans for the administrative HIV visitor and immigrant ban, saying only that they are reviewing the matter.

The global AIDS bill reauthorized the presidents highly acclaimed international AIDS programs called the Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

The president signed the PEPFAR legislation less than a week after the House of Representatives passed the measure 303-115. The Senate approved the bill one week earlier, 80-16.

The provision in the PEPFAR bill that repeals the statutory HIV visitor and immigrant ban also enjoyed widespread, bipartisan support in Congress. Although the White House did not publicly announce a position on the repeal language, it made it clear to Congress that the president did not oppose the repeal provision.

In a White House bill signing ceremony for the PEPFAR bill, the president outlined in significant details nearly all of PEPFARs provisions pertaining to providing U.S. funds to help developing countries fight the AIDS epidemic. But Bush did not mention the provision repealing the HIV visitor and immigrant ban.

“We urge the Department of Health and Human Services to take the next step and remove HIV from the list of diseases that bar people from coming to the U.S.,” said Charles Kuck, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

“The United States has enforced this antiquated immigration policy for too long with no public health rationale for discriminating against HIV-positive people in such a severe manner,” Kuck said.

If the Bush administration does not repeal the HHS administrative ban by January 2009, the matter would go before the next president.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama opposes the ban and would take steps to repeal it, according to a campaign spokesperson.

A spokesperson for Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain did not respond to the Blades request for comment.

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