by Kathy Drasky
Over two years ago, the Bush Administration issued a directive to lift the oppressive HIV travel ban in the United States. Today, January 4, 2010, that ban is officially history.
For 22 years, the US banned people with HIV/AIDS from entering the country unless they had a US family member who could sign a waiver on their behalf. The waiver was to guarantee that the person with HIV would not place any Americans at risk for contracting the disease.
Put into place during the Reagan years, the HIV travel ban was at first an ignorant response to a serious health issue. As time went on, however, the ban became a cruel roadblock aimed particularly against gay men in same-sex binational relationships. US immigration law continues to leave LGBT people out of what constitutes a "family". As a result, a gay American with a foreign partner with HIV/AIDS did not qualify as the "family member" needed to sign the waiver. Only a parent or spouse could do that. And -- at the federal level, the US still only defines "spouse" as one's "opposite-sex partner".
So, good riddance to the discriminatory HIV travel ban, which President Obama says is "a step that will keep families together." It's a start. An LGBT American with a foreign partner with HIV/AIDS most likely is living in exile with that partner, in a country that does not discriminate against gays and lesbians when it comes to immigration rights or health concerns. Circumventing signing a waiver, the LGBT American and his foreign partner who is HIV-positive can now travel to the US for a visit. But they can't stay together here permanently.
For that to happen, the US needs to change its immigration policy to recognize same-sex binational relationships. It needs to add the words "or permanent partner" to existing law wherever the word "spouse" appears. This can happen by Congress passing the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). It could also happen by UAFA-like language being added to current Comprehensive Immigration Reform bills now in the House like CIR ASAP or inclusion of Rep. Mike Honda's Reuniting Families Act into a Senate version of the RFA. Additional immigration rights bills soon to come from Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Zoe Lofgren will also need to make provisions for gay and lesbian Americans with foreign partners if immigration reform is going to really be "comprehensive."
There are many ways for the US to take another step in the right direction toward fixing its broken immigration system. Lifting the HIV travel ban is long overdue start.
To read more about the lifting of the HIV travel ban, click here.