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U.S. lifts HIV travel ban
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U.S. lifts HIV travel ban

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

The U.S. government has lifted the ban on foreign nationals with HIV entering the country. For the past 22 years, people who are HIV-positive needed a special waiver to visit, or travel through, the U.S. - a requirement that was dropped on January 4.

President Barack Obama announced the ban repeal on October 30, 2009.

"Twenty-two years ago, in a decision rooted in fear rather than fact, the United States instituted a travel ban on entry into the country for people living with HIV/AIDS," Obama said. "Now, we talk about reducing the stigma of the disease - yet we've treated a visitor living with it as a threat."

The Bush administration approved the end of the travel ban in June 2008, but failed to implement the regulatory changes to end the restrictions.

Since the ban went into effect in 1993 by an Act of Congress, international HIV/AIDS activists and people living with the disease have pushed for the ban's removal. It was believed that although the U.S. government encouraged HIV-positive citizens around the world to come forward for treatment, doing so would limit their civil rights because of discriminatory policies, such as travel and immigration bans. The ban limited international travel of HIV-positive foreign nationals by preventing them from entering the U.S. without a special waiver, which only permitted short-term travel and required a complicated application process.

Additionally, the ban prohibited HIV-positive people from obtaining legal residency, and denied citizenship to thousands of people already living in the United States.

According to On Top Magazine, the first HIV-positive person to enter the country since the lifting of the ban was Clemens Ruland, a youth worker from the Netherlands. Gay advocacy group Immigration Equality welcomed him and his partner Hugo Bausch when they arrived in New York on January 4.

Ruland was infected in New York by an ex-lover and diagnosed HIV-positive in 1997. Anti Retroviral Therapy has kept his virus load undetectable. He returned to visit the U.S. once, but said he feared being detained - a fear Ruland no longer had to harbor. The lifting of the ban made it possible for the couple to visit old friends, shop and enjoy the city during their one-week stay.

Martin Rooney, a Canadian citizen, says he was denied access to the U.S. on November 11, 2007 when he tried to cross the border to get a turkey for Thanksgiving. Because of the ban, Rooney, who is HIV-positive, was not permitted to cross into the country.

Rooney has since become an activist, and created a large Facebook group entitled, "HIV Travel to US OPENS January 4th - join me in Crossing the Border!" Rooney says he created the group to raise awareness about the ban as well as organize people to celebrate its official repeal. Rooney and company traveled to Bellingham, Washington on January 4, to buy the turkey he was to get on November 11, 2007, the day he was denied entry.

While in Bellingham, Rooney will also speak about the lifting of the travel and immigration ban at Bellingham's Coronation 2010, hosted by the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Evergreen Empire, a branch of the International Court System.

"The repeal is very much a liberation of sorts," Rooney said. "I have always believed in the freedom of travel and I thought the ban to be very discriminatory."

The 2012 World AIDS Conference will be held in the US in recognition of the lifting of the ban.

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