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Bush Signs President's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) Legislation

by Kathy Drasky Friday, Aug. 01, 2008 at 1:50 PM
amos (at) out4immigration.org 415.375.3765 PO Box 14073, San Francisco, CA 94116

President Bush signed the President’s Emergency Program (PEPFAR) into law yesterday at the White House.

The landmark bill, which passed in both the House and Senate by wide margins earlier this month, provides billion over the next five years for the global fight of AIDS. Within the legislation is a directive to lift the HIV travel/immigration ban, which bars foreign travelers with HIV/AIDS from entering the United States unless they obtain a spouse or family waiver. That ban is blatantly discriminatory, particularly against gay men and lesbians with the illness, because under current US immigration law, their partners do not qualify as spouses or family.

For immediate release:
July 31, 2008

Bush Signs President's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) Legislation

Out4Immigration Applauds Bill’s Call for Removal of Discriminatory HIV Travel/Immigration Ban

WASHINGTON, DC—July 31, 2008—President Bush signed the President’s Emergency Program (PEPFAR) into law yesterday at the White House.

The landmark bill, which passed in both the House and Senate by wide margins earlier this month, provides billion over the next five years for the global fight of AIDS. Within the legislation is a directive to lift the HIV travel/immigration ban, which bars foreign travelers with HIV/AIDS from entering the United States unless they obtain a spouse or family waiver. That ban is blatantly discriminatory, particularly against gay men and lesbians with the illness, because under current US immigration law, their partners do not qualify as spouses or family. While the President’s signature on this bill is a first step toward working to end immigration discrimination, one more barrier for HIV-positive visitors and immigrants must be removed. US immigration laws require the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to maintain a list of diseases that render people unable to enter the United States. HIV remains on that list.

“Out4Immigration applauds the US government’s continued commitment to the global fight against AIDS. We are especially pleased by the provision in this legislation sponsored by Senators John Kerry and Gordon Smith in the Senate and Congresswoman Barbara Lee in the House that repeals the draconian ban against people with HIV entering our country. We hope that the Secretary of Health and Human Services acts quickly to remove HIV from the list of diseases that prevents entry into the US as is dictated by PEPFAR” said Michael Lim, Vice President of Out4Immigration.

“Today we all know that HIV/AIDS is a preventable disease and that people who are living with the illness can take proven precautions to prevent its transmission.”

Out4Immigration is a national grassroots organization dedicated to raising awareness about the discrimination gay and lesbian Americans face under current US immigration law. Because the United States does not recognize same-sex relationships at the federal level, gays and lesbians are shut out from many federal benefits that would protect their families. One of the most devastating consequences of this is lack of immigration rights.

“Prior to PEPFAR, and what we hope will be a swift removal of HIV by the HHS, an American gay person in a relationship with a foreign partner with HIV/AIDS could be permanently separated from their partner because the foreign partner did not have the right to travel in and out of the country because of the HIV travel ban,” explained Lim.

“On the other hand, heterosexuals married to a foreign partner with HIV/AIDS could obtain a waiver, based on the fact that they were assumed to be in a committed, monogamous relationship that would prohibit the spread of the disease to the community at-large. This was blatant discrimination against gays and lesbians.”

The PEPFAR legislation, with the lifting of HIV by the HHS, will now treat all foreign visitors and immigrants with HIV/AIDS the same.

“It is an important first step to end immigration discrimination in the US,” said Lim. “According to a Human Rights Watch report, we still have more than 36,000 committed same-sex binational couples who are denied the right to a green card because our country does not recognize their right to be together.”

These couples would benefit from legislation called the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which would effectively add the words “or permanent partner” to existing immigration law wherever the word “spouse” appears. The bill currently has 99 co-sponsors in the House and 14 in the Senate. It needs many more in both chambers to come up for a vote that would have the kind of overwhelming support PEPFAR had to insure the president’s signature.

# # #
______________
For more information:
Out4Immigration: http://www.out4immigration.org
About PEPFAR: http://www.pepfar.gov/about/
Human Rights Watch Report: Family Unvalued: Discrimination, Denial, and the Fate of Binational Same-Sex Couples under US Law: http://www.hrw.org/reports/2006/us0506/
The Uniting American Families Act (H.R. 2221): http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:HR02221:
The Uniting American Families Act (S.1328): http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:SN01328:

end

____________

Out4Immigration addresses the widespread discriminatory impact of US immigration laws on the lives of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV+ people and their families through education, outreach, advocacy and the maintenance of a resource and support network. For more information, visit www.out4immigration.org. To schedule interviews with same-sex binational couples who are available to speak with the media on this issue, including Spanish-speaking couples, please contact Amos Lim, amos@out4immigration.org, 415-375-3765 or Kathy Drasky at kathy@out4immigration.org, 415-606-2085.

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