The United States is one of twelve countries that ban people living with HIV from entering the country. This is on my mind because I am writing a paper for my social work class about welfare policies, and I recently heard a story on National Public Radio about the topic. I’ve worked with the Campaign to End AIDS for the last two years to try to get this ban overturned.
Originally, when AIDS was first discovered (1981, then called the highly-stigmatizing GRID, or gay-related immune deficiency), there was great fear of it in this country. The US made its entry policy in the late 80′s (1987), when the fear was still going strong. To this day, we still have the same restrictions (with one amendment to make it a more streamlined process), and people can even be deported or denied citizenship if they become infected with HIV while here as an immigrant. The historic claim is that the ban protects the public’s health by not unnecessarily increasing the number of people in this country living with HIV (and the US has restrictions based on many other diseases too). Section 212(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act reads, in part:
(a) Classes of Aliens Ineligible for Visas or Admission.-Except as otherwise provided in this Act, aliens who are inadmissible under the following paragraphs are ineligible to receive visas and ineligible to be admitted to the United States:
(1) Health-related grounds.-
(A) In general.-Any alien-
(i) who is determined (in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services) to have a communicable disease of public health significance, which shall include infection with the etiologic agent for acquired immune deficiency syndrome
My problem with this is that the people I know living with HIV aren’t planning to purposefully go around and infect others, and in fact, take great care with the health of their partners. Additionally, there are other, much more virulent and transmissible, diseases that do not bar entry, such as the novel H1N1 flu or tuberculosis. This act also specifically mentions the “etiologic agent for acquired immune deficiency syndrome”, which is known to be HIV. I’m glad that the U.S. is working to remove HIV from the list of diseases that are considered “dangerous contagious disease[s]”.