Former Senator Jesse Helms, the notorious author of dozens of measures attacking GLBT and HIV-positive people during his years in the Senate, died on July 4. Unfortunately, the legacy of discrimination against HIV-positive people he helped to create lives on in a law that bars nearly every foreign person with HIV from entering the United States. That’s right – with very few exceptions, an HIV-positive individual cannot come to the United States for any reason, be it to visit, work, study or become a legal resident.
It’s an embarrassment and an outrage. And at long last, we have a chance to bring it to an end.
Earlier this year, Senators Kerry (D-MA) and Smith (R-OR) added language to repeal this discriminatory law that was included in legislation reauthorizing efforts to fight HIV across the globe, commonly known as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). We thought we were close to finally ending the discriminatory ban which prevents HIV positive individuals from entering the country or obtaining legal U.S. citizenship.
But now, just as Congress is preparing to vote on the PEPFAR bill anti-gay Senators are pushing to remove this critical provision keeping the discriminatory ban in place.
This discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS is inexcusable, and the policy has serious consequences. It separates families, denies American businesses access to talented workers, and bars students and tourists from accessing opportunities and supporting our economy. And it is just downright wrong.
Because of stigma alone, HIV is the only medical condition codified in U.S. law as a basis for inadmissibility for short-term travel and immigration – the admissibility of persons with all other communicable diseases is at the discretion of the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Removing the ban would treat HIV/AIDS like all other medical conditions in the eyes of the law. The U.S. is one of only 12 countries – including Russia, Saudi Arabia and Sudan – that maintains such harsh and outdated travel and immigration restrictions on people living with HIV.
No one should be punished by the law because of their HIV status. That’s why we need to make sure this critical provision remains in PEPFAR and this discriminatory ban is finally abolished. When your Senator votes this week on whether or not to remove the ban from PEPFAR, make sure they know that this discrimination against HIV-positive individuals must end.
With your help, I know we can make real progress towards eliminating this draconian policy. Thank you for taking action today.