Now, the ban on HIV travel is not strictly an LGBT issue - the infection is hardly limited to the queer community - but it has affected that community disproportionately. Though at the time the U.S. Public Health Service had long maintained a list of diseases/infections that justified barring entry into the country, the inclusion of HIV/AIDS on that list was pioneered first by Ronald Reagan, then by Jesse Helms in the Senate (see this timeline for more information). In its current form, the ban dates back to 1993, when it was signed into law by then-President Clinton, who had promised during the campaign to repeal the ban.
Why did Clinton reverse course? This is a long story, having to do with the release of HIV+ Haitian refugees, a good bit of scare-mongering by Congressional Republicans, and an unfortunate bargain in which the ban was attached to increased funding for things like AIDS research, as part of a comprehensive NIH bill. But whatever the reason, the HIV travel ban was both upheld and strengthened in 1993 - the only disease so distinguished by Congress. Thus its repeal has had to wait for another act of Congress.
The path to reversing the ban took its first decisive step last year (thank you John Kerry, and for bipartisan support, Gordon Smith), and the posting by OMB is the next crucial step. Immigration Equality has more on the specifics involved:
As most of you know, last year Congress passed a bill which removed the ban on travel and immigration for HIV-positive foreign nationals from the Immigration and Nationality Act. However, fully removing the ban has required a two step process – first amending the statute and second HHS has to issue regulations removing HIV from its list of communicable diseases of public health significance.
Before HHS can publish its proposed regulations, they have to "clear" OMB. The fact that this has happened means that, finally, we can expect to see the regulations published in the Federal Register any day.
Credit where credit is due: George W. Bush signed the repeal into law in July 2008, as part of the budget for President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). That the repeal did not go into effect may have had something to do with the time frame required to implement it: consider that OMB received instructions to review the policy back in April, and we're still only part of the way there. How long will this whole process take? According to the Advocate's report:
Once HHS publishes the new regulation in the federal register next week, a 45-day window will be opened for public comment, after which HHS may make adjustments to the proposal and send it back to OMB for budgetary approval. After OMB green-lights the final regulation, HHS will once again enter the change into the federal registry for another 30- or 60-day review period, at which point it will automatically go into effect. In theory, Congress could act to block the change during that time, but that seems highly unlikely in this case.
So we likely won't see the culmination of all these efforts until the end of the year, barring any new hurdles. Still, this is very good news.
I normally don't like ending these diaries without concrete action items, but this is a rare case where there's really nothing for us to do but sit back and wait for the regulations to go through the usual bureaucratic channels. So instead, I'll point you to a related topic:
Lt. Dan Choi, from Orange County, California, is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and an Iraq War veteran. On Tuesday, he will face a panel of colonels who will decide whether or not to fire him -- to discharge him from the military for "moral and professional dereliction" under the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
Lt. Choi will be presenting a petition to his panel, and that petition could use your signature. It currently has just shy of 80,000 names. Whether it will be any use or not, it could use more.
Show Lt. Choi that you support him for his service to this country, and that you oppose this hopefully soon-to-be-obsolete policy of discharging our best and brightest soldiers. And if you're really inclined, stop by Servicemembers United and drop them a donation for all their hard work.
We're all in this together.
(cross-posted at docudharma)
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