America's Door Remains Shut to Foreigners With HIV; Critics Say Politics, "Remnant of Fear" Keep 19-Year-Old Ban Alive
July 14, 2006
The US Immigration and Naturalization Act denies visas to anyone with "a communicable disease of public health significance," and in 1987, Congress added HIV infection to that list of diseases. The prohibition remains in place today. While officials have granted a waiver to allow international HIV-positive athletes to attend this weekend's Gay Games VII in Chicago, as they did when the games were held in New York City in 1994, many health experts question why the rule is still in effect at all.
"The ban serves no scientific purpose," said Patricia Mail, president of the American Public Health Association. "Because of the way it's transmitted, [HIV] simply poses no public health threat," she said.
The American Medical Association and the World Health Organization also oppose the rule. The list of countries with such a ban is short and includes Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Opponents say the policy's real effect is to drive HIV-positive visitors underground, and many lie about their status to avoid the risk of being turned away. Some Web sites offer tips, such as repackaging AIDS drugs or mailing them ahead to friends, on how HIV-positive visitors can avoid detection upon arrival in the United States.
While blanket waivers are sometimes granted for special events like the Gay Games, advocates say individual waivers are much harder to obtain. "Actually, I don't know of a single person who's been successful," said Vishal Trivdi of Gay Men's Health Crisis.
In 1991, Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan promised the ban would be lifted, but he retreated under political fire. In the 1992 presidential campaign, Gov. Bill Clinton also pledged to change the rule; however, Congressional supporters of the ban saved it by making it part of a bill funding research at the National Institutes of Health. During the 2004 campaign, Sen. John Kerry also said he would repeal the ban if elected.
07.12.2006; Bonnie Miller Rubin