The Senate is expected to debate the ban on HIV+ travelers this month as part of Bush's global AIDS relief package. The United States remains one of only 13 nations -- including Iraq, Qatar and Armenia -- to ban HIV+ foreign visitors and immigrants.
The U.S. has faced harsh criticism internationally for having one of the most restrictive immigration policies for HIV+ foreigners. It prompted a boycott of the U.S. by prominent AIDS advocacy and research groups, which have not held a major international conference in the U.S. since the early 1990s.
Even if Congress removes the anti-HIV language from the immigration law, it would fall to Health and Human Services to decide whether HIV should remain on the list of diseases that bar entry to the U.S., which include tuberculosis, leprosy and gonorrhea.
According to U.S. State Department statistics, 938 immigration applicants were denied admission to the U.S. in 2007 because they had a communicable disease. The U.S. does not require HIV tests for all foreign visitors -- only for people planning to immigrate permanently. However, short-term visitors are asked in the visa application process whether they have a communicable disease. People who don't disclose their status have been known to be stopped in customs when found with HIV meds and refused entry.
Bush has said he supports the ban remaining in place, even though he recently got a special waiver for Tatu Msangi, a nurse and single mother from Tanzania, from this horrific ban just to parade her as an example of how much they care during his last State of the Union.
I hope Congress and HHS have the intelligence to end this draconian and bias-based ban that is used to keep hundreds of HIV+ individuals from visiting the U.S. every year. Bigoted bans like this only further serve to instill misinformation and fear about people living with HIV. Getting rid ot it is long overdue.