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Outmoded Regs Bar 60 HIV+ Canadians from Attending US Meeting

by Kilian Melloy
Friday May 29, 2009

The United States remains one of the world's nations that denies entry to persons from other countries who are living with HIV/AIDS. That includes Canadians, as up to 60 would-be visitors from our northern neighbor discovered.

A May 28 press release from Housing Works alerted the media that as many as 60 Canadians had been turned away from the U.S. border in spite of "stated U.S. policy that foreigners living with HIV would no longer be barred from entering the country."

However, even though Congress acted to repeal the law that keeps HIV+ visitors out, relevant U.S. Department of Health & Human Services regulations have not been revised, and HIV+ visitors are still not allowed to enter the country.

The law denying foreign nationals living with HIV were fist put into place in the early 1980s, before the route of transmission of the virus was well understood.

Because HIV cannot be spread through casual contact, critics of the ban had long called for it to be rescinded. President Bush signed legislation to that effect last summer, but the unrevised U.S. Department of Health & Human Services regulations still act to bar HIV travelers from entering U.S. borders.

The release from Housing Works, which advocates for housing as a means to combat the spread of HIV, said that organizations were "calling on Secretary of State Clinton to resolve the matter and on President Obama to do away with Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) regulations that are effectively keeping the HIV travel ban in place."

Noted the release, "The 60 Canadians had planned to attend the North American Housing and HIV/AIDS Research Summit in Washington, D.C. from June 2 to June 5. The OHTN and NAHC are cosponsors of that event."

The effective ban on HIV+ travelers puts the U.S. in august company. "The U.S. is one of only 14 countries in the world that bar entry to persons with HIV, a fact that has drawn broad condemnation from both domestic and international human rights organizations," the release added, noting in a footnote that the United States shares the distinction of barring HIV+ international travelers from entry with Brunei, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Singapore, Sudan, South Korea, Tunisia, Turks & Caicos Islands, and the United Arab Emirates.

Noted the media advisory, "Yet the ban still has not yet been stricken from DHHS regulations; instead, the Department of Homeland Security put into place a series of measures designed to 'streamline' the process for entry into the U.S. for people living with HIV.

"However, this process is an ill-conceived bureaucratic tangle with such onerous requirements that it is tantamount to a complete ban on people living with HIV coming into the United States," the release says.

The CEO and president of Housing Works, Charles King, was quoted in the release as saying, "This new incident proves that AIDS stigma is alive and well in the United States and actively being promulgated by the United States government.

"President Obama says that he wants to repair America's damaged relationships with foreign countries. Let him prove it by taking immediate action to ensure that the DHHS gets this hateful regulation off its books," added King.

Immigration Equality offers information on the travel ban at its Web site, noting that it is possible for foreign visitors to obtain waivers, though that is a cumbersome process.

Reads the text at the Immigration Equality site, "The next step in the process [of lifting the ban] is for HHS to issue proposed regulations which will state the agency's intention to remove HIV from its list of 'communicable diseases of public health significance.'

"There will then be a period of time during which the public can submit comments, and then, probably 60 days later, HHS will issue a final rule.

"Meanwhile, Immigration Equality is continuing to work in coalition with other immigration, public heatlh, and HIV/AIDS organizations to pressure the new administration on this issue," the text continues.

"Since HHS does not yet have a new Secretary, on February 11, 2009, we sent President Obama a letter that was signed by 152 organizations, urging him to take swift action to lift the HIV ban.

"As soon as we receive a response, we will post it on our website."

The Housing Works release detailed what is necessary to obtain a waiver.

"The visa process requires, among other things, a face-to-face interview; a photo; a $131 money order from a specific Canadian bank; an agreement not to extend the visit for any reason; completion of an intrusive and humiliating health form, and a pledge that the applicant has adequate health coverage--something that many U.S. citizens living with HIV/AIDS are still denied."

In the case of the Canadians who wished to attend to conference, the requirements were only made known to them a week and a half before the conference, the release said.

"To add insult to injury, because the [Ontario HIV Treatment Network] was informed of the new requirements on Friday, May 22, the Canadians could not even attempt to meet those requirements until Monday, May 25, barely one week from the June 2 start date of the conference--and to do so, they would have to travel from all over Canada to a specific Ottawa U.S. consulate."

Remarked Dr. Sean B. Rourke, executive director of the OHTN, "Not only are these requirements an affront to people living with HIV in Canada, they were impossible to meet.

"There was no way to physically get people to the Ottawa Embassy on such short notice.

"Furthermore, requiring people to give their name, a photo and confidential health information to the U.S. government is a violation of their privacy and inconsistent with our commitment to protect personal health information," Dr. Rourke continued.

"It shows a lack of sensitivity to the very real stigma and discrimination that people living with HIV/AIDS face every day of their lives."

The situation echoes a recent incident in which a Cuban unsuccessfully sought to remain in the U.S. under a 1966 American law that provides for permanent U.S. residency for those who emigrate to American shores from Cuba.

But in the case of Raul Hernandez, the long-standing law was superceded by the ban on HIV+ foreigners, even though Hernandez had been living in Arlington, Virginia, reported The Southern Voice in a May 20 article.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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