NEW YORK - July 19 - The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) applauds Senator John Kerry's commitment to "work with Congress to lift the (United States) immigration ban on HIV-positive people" if elected President. Kerry made the pledge in a press statement marking the opening of the XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, noting that the ban has long prohibited the US from hosting this important world meeting.
In addition, IGLHRC appeals to all governments to vigorously uphold their duty to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of all, and in particular, those living with HIV/AIDS. The U.S. bar stands among the world's most stringent. Other with comparable restrictive polices are Russia, Quatar and the United Arab Emirates.
The U.S. ban, which prohibits anyone with HIV from entering the U.S. without a special waiver, violates the fundamental right to be free from discrimination, the right to life and personal security and the right to freedom of movement. These are rights recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and are implicitly or explicitly noted in almost every human rights treaty. The HIV immigration ban unfairly sets people with HIV apart from those with other diseases and disabilities, despite the fact that HIV is not transmitted casually. It plays into hostility and hatred toward persons with HIV.
In addition, the United Nations Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights have clearly cited exclusion based on HIV status as infringing on basic human rights:
"There is no public health rationale for restricting liberty of movement or choice of residence on the grounds of HIV status. According to the current international health regulations, the only disease which requires a certificate for international travel is yellow fever. Therefore, any restrictions on those rights based on suspected or real HIV-status alone, including HIV screening of international travelers, are discriminatory and cannot be justified by public health concerns." (HIV/AIDS and Human Rights, International Guidelines, 01-06-1998, p. 46, note 105. See also UNAIDS/IOM Statement on HIV/AIDS-Related Travel Restrictions 1-16-04. Both documents can be found at unaids.org)
"Discrimination does not protect public health," stated Susana Fried, IGLHRC's program director. "This ban has long been used to particularly target men who have sex with men, among others, for exclusion. Rather than promoting the human rights of people in need of protection, it promotes social stigma and normalization."
The HIV exclusion was imposed in 1987 to bar any non-citizen who is found to have a "communicable disease of public health significance" from entering the United States. In 1990, the law was amended to bar individuals with a "dangerous contagious disease." As a result, the Immigration and Naturalization Agency mandates HIV testing of all applicants for an immigrant visa, refugee status, naturalization and adjustment of status. Although those seeking nonimmigrant visas, such as a visitor's visa, are not subject to mandatory testing, the INA has been permitted to test if it suspects that a nonimmigrant is infected.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services attempted in 1990 to remove HIV and several other conditions from the exclusion list because such diseases are not transmitted by casual contact, through the air, or through common vehicles such as food or water and because they do not place the general population at risk. A public backlash prevented the removal of HIV from the exclusion list, and in May 1993, Congress approved legislation codifying the exclusion that President Bill Clinton signed it into law. The 1993 legislation did, however, provide the US attorney general discretion to grant exclusion waivers in individual cases for athletic events, medical conferences and short-term visits.