U.S. Acts to Open Borders to Foreigners With HIV

Hernán Rozemberg, Express-News (San Antonio), Augsut 10, 2008

After more than two decades on the books, a little-known yet strictly enforced federal law barring foreigners with HIV or AIDS from entering the country is on its way out.

Tucked in a bill pledging $48 billion to combat the disease, signed into law by President Bush last week, was language stripping the provision from federal immigration law.

But that change didn’t fully lift the entry ban on visitors with HIV or AIDS, which applies whether they’re on tourist jaunts or seeking longer stays. The secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services still needs to delete HIV from the agency’s list of “communicable diseases of public health significance,” which includes tuberculosis, gonorrhea and leprosy.

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When HIV first surfaced, researchers didn’t know how it was transmitted, but it has long been widely known that HIV is not easily contracted and that even people with full-blown AIDS can live for a long time, said Patterson, who has taught for 15 years at the University of Texas Health Science Center.

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Congressional support for lifting the travel ban was bipartisan and strong, but not unanimous. Leading the opposition was U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith of San Antonio, the top Republican in the House Judiciary Committee. He sent a missive to his colleagues titled “The bill threatens the health and lives of Americans.”

The e-mail cited the CBO’s April report predicting that revoking the travel ban would allow an estimated 4,300 immigrants with HIV to enter the country in 2013, increasing to 5,600 by 2018. Smith’s message left out the report’s estimate of the public cost of treating these immigrants and their children between 2010 and 2018: $83 million.

Smith warned the disease has killed more than 500,000 Americans despite improved treatment and that allowing infected foreigners in would increase public risk.

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