In a surprising and underreported move, the Bush administration has announced that it will issue an executive order allowing people who are HIV-positive to enter the United States on short-term visas without seeking a special waiver. That word came on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1.
As of Dec. 4, the order had yet to appear on the White House Web site and there was no indication when it might.
U.S. law allows the exclusion of foreigners who pose a public-health risk. That was interpreted to exclude a HIV-positive Dutch visitor traveling to speak in the U.S. in 1989. It sparked a protest at the International AIDS Conference in San Francisco in 1990 and the conference has not returned to the U.S. in protest of the policy.
Those who have objected to the policy say it is demeaning, further stigmatizes the disease and contributes nothing to public health. Furthermore, having notice of such an exemption stamped in their passport may subject the person to discrimination and possibly violence in their home country.
Many HIV-positive visitors have chosen to simply not state their status or seek a waiver when visiting the U.S. They run the risk of being questioned and possibly denied entry if an examination of their luggage turns of HIV drugs.
Gay pundit Andrew Sullivan called Bush's move a 'tiny, if welcome gesture' that should be followed by support for a legislative effort to remove HIV as a barrier to American residence and citizenship. Read more story below....
Just don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen any time soon. After the International AIDS Conference in Toronto this summer, 160 HIV-positive participants chose to remain in Canada and apply for refugee status. Among them were attendees from El Salvador, Eritrea, Peru, South Africa and Uganda who claimed to fear for their health and safety if they returned home.
That experience is likely to temper any congressional action on the subject, particularly in light of ongoing funding issues for Americans living with HIV.