First Congress lifted the ban on needle-exchange funding in D.C. last December. Then yesterday brought news that lawmakers might lift a decades-old ban against HIV-positive people visiting or immigrating to the United States. What’s happening on the Hill? Are legislators ceding their bunker-mentality approach to domestic AIDS policy?
As the Houston Chronicle reports, since 1987 the United States has imposed severe restrictions on HIV-positive foreigners. They are not allowed to immigrate to or even visit the United States “unless they qualify for narrowly defined waivers.” The Senate Foreign Relations committee tacked the amendment to lift the ban onto the president’s global AIDS relief package, which will be up for debate in the Senate shortly, and Congress seems likely to lift the ban.
Of course, President Bush will still have to sign the bill and the Department of Health and Human Services, which has final say over the list of diseases that bar entry into the United States, will also have to fall in line. But choosing to retain such a paranoiac policy would only serve to undermine any efforts this administration takes on either the international or domestic AIDS front. It would also be a disservice to American citizens. Restricting immigrants and visitors who are HIV positive doesn’t protect people from getting the disease; it limits our ability to understand the pandemic and it reduces our capacity to confront it.