Fix the Fix, Ban the Ban
One Week Left to Urge DHS to Drop Its Nonsensical Changes to the Ban on HIV-Positive Travelers and Immigrants
November 30, 2007
When Fortunata Kasege came to the United States on a student visa to get a journalism degree in 1997, she assumed in four years she would return home to Tanzania. But before she got her degree, she was diagnosed with HIV while pregnant with her daughter. Kasege overstayed her visa, fearing that the U.S. government's draconian ban on HIV-positive immigrants might land her in an immigration detention center -- or that she wouldn't be allowed back in the country. Kasege couldn't even return home to Tanzania for her father's funeral.
"It's like getting two diagnoses at once," said Kasege, who became active in the Campaign to End AIDS and has worked with other HIV-positive immigrants. "I've met with women who wouldn't even seek treatment because they were scared of getting deported."
This World AIDS Day, folks like Kasege can't help but remember that last World AIDS Day the Bush administration proposed a "categorical waiver" for HIV-positive people seeking to enter the United States on short-term visas, providing exemptions to the 1987 travel ban which bars immigration into the U.S. by people with HIV. AIDS advocates were underwhelmed by this idea from the start, since it does nothing to quell the real tragedy of the ban on HIV-positive immigrants like Kasege. But when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposal was finally released a mere 11 months later on November 6, it contained some troubling new additions.
"We knew this waiver would be completely insufficient, but we didn't anticipate it would be quite so aggressive and that it would create new barriers," said Nancy Ordover, assistant director for research and federal affairs at Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) and co-coordinator of the Coalition to Lift the Bar, which aims to lift the travel ban on HIV-positive travelers and immigrants.
The new rule actually adds excessive burdens. For example, HIV-positive travelers are required to bring all of the medication they need for the duration of their visit, with no exceptions -- but what happens if the airline loses their luggage. The policy also doesn't allow any possibility of granting an extension of stay or change in status, as it does for other travelers. "What if you have a 30-day stay and day 29 comes and you're hit by a bus?," Ordover said. "This shows how DHS shouldn't be in charge of anything with HIV/AIDS because they really don't get it."
Make a Statement
The DHS' 30-day public comment period for the new proposal ends December 6, a ploy that Gay City News speculates, was meant "to catch the AIDS community busy with preparations for World AIDS Day on December 1 unawares."
And while Ordover is asking that any comments on the fix be sent her way when GMHC makes their suggestions, the only way for policy change to happen is to talk to your Congressional representatives to strike the the 1993 provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act banning HIV-positive travelers and immigrants, as Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) proposed in August when she introduced the HIV Nondiscrimination in Travel and Immigration Act of 2007. If this bill gets through Congress, it would allow the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to change the policy, but that doesn't mean it will necessarily do so. HHS instated the ban in 1987, but when HHS reversed its position in 1991 and tried to overturn the ban, Congress stepped in and codified this reactionary policy.
Until Congress undoes this legislation, DHS may be limited in what they can do, said Vishal Trivedi, manager of GMHCs Immigration Project, But if the White House was serious about protecting the human rights of people living with HIV, they could have invited legislation overturning the policy.
There's a lot of work ahead of us to make sure the ban is eliminated for good. And DHS's "categorical waiver" (which is not actually categorical) will only make things worse.
If China reverses its HIV travel ban, as it announced earlier this month, the U.S. will be one of only 12 countries that completely bans travel of HIV-positive people. We join Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Sudan, Qatar, Brunei, Oman, Moldova, Russia, Armenia and South Korea with this distinct honor.
IAS Statement on United States Department of Homeland Security Proposed Ruling to "Streamline" Temporary Visa Provision for People Living With HIV/AIDS
This article was provided by Housing Works. It is a part of the publication Housing Works AIDS Issues Update. Visit Housing Works' website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.