June 7, 2013
Earlier this week an immigration appeals court issued a rare reversal of an immigration judge's decision to deport an HIV-positive immigrant. The immigrant, Jose Luis Ramirez, had been in the U.S. due to ongoing abuse from police officers in Mexico because he is gay. After becoming homeless in the U.S., he was convicted of solicitation of oral sex for money resulting in the hearing to deport him. The Department of Homeland Security argued that Mr. Ramirez's HIV-positive status made the solicitation conviction a "particularly serious crime." The Department retracted its statement about HIV after several organizations, including AIDS United's Public Policy Committee Members, the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, submitted an amicus brief asking the Board of Immigration Appeals to overturn the deportation ruling.
The amicus brief provided scientific evidence that contracting HIV through oral sex is rare and that the original judge overestimated the consequences of HIV. The brief notes that rather than being inevitably lethal, HIV has now become a manageable disease for most people living with it. Lambda Legal and the Public Law Center organized and led the efforts to write the amicus brief. Although immigration cases are considered civil, not criminal, cases, the ruling sheds light on the outdated understanding of HIV that has led to criminal prosecutions and sometimes lengthy sentences for consensual sex and for conduct, such as spitting or biting, which poses no significant risk of HIV transmission.