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A "Penultimate Step" in the Fight to End the HIV Travel Ban

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In a move that closes the gap between two White House administrations, numerous government agencies and a year-old act of Congress, the Department of Health and Human Services has issued regulations that would end the United States' decades-old HIV travel and immigration ban. Originally authorized as part of President Bush's PEPFAR legislation - thanks, in large part, to the heroic efforts of Senator John Kerry, Congresswoman Barbara Lee and former Senator Gordon Smith - repeal of the ban took a giant leap forward this week with publication of the HHS regulations and a promise from President Obama that his administration is committed to seeing the ban rescinded soon.

Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, which played a leading role in the repeal effort called the proposed regulations "the penultimate step" toward ending the ban, noting in Newsday that, "These regulations are a long time coming. There hasn't been a major HIV scientific conference in the U.S. in decades because of this ban."

Blogger Andrew Sullivan, who has been a long-time advocate on the issue, also noted on The Daily Dish that the regulations represent "a milestone," adding that repeal of the ban, ". . . will remove a measure that discourages honesty about HIV, and promotes a stigma around the disease that makes effective prevention and treatment much harder. It will save lives. It will save relationships and marriages. It will place America where it belongs - at the forefront of global AIDS and HIV leadership."

"We're almost there," Tiven said in a statement today. "There is one more step, though, before the prohibition is gone."

That step is a 45 day public comment period, during which HHS solicits feedback on the proposed regulations. In an effort to streamline the comment process, and encourage people to support the regulations, Immigration Equality launched an online petition, to allow the public to collectively endorse the HHS proposal and help move repeal forward as quickly as possible.

"Last year, Congress amended the Immigration and Nationality Act to remove the statutory HIV ban," the petition reads in part. "In doing so, it sent a strong message that the United States can no longer countenance this discriminatory law. Publishing these regulations as quickly as possible as a final rule will be an enormous step forward in treating people living with HIV with the dignity and respect they deserve."

Senator Kerry and Congresswoman Lee, in statements issued yesterday, also praised the proposed language. "Today we are one step closer to ending a discriminatory practice that stigmatizes those living with HIV, squanders our moral authority, and sets us back in the fight against AIDS," said Senator Kerry. "By proposing this rule, the Obama administration has made a powerful statement in favor of overturning the HIV travel and immigration ban that has no foundation in public health or common sense. There is no reason for this policy to remain on the books."

"The Obama administration's proposed rule to repeal the travel ban is a positive step toward finally ending this unjust and discriminatory policy," Congresswoman Lee said. "I am proud to have played a crucial role in leading the effort to end this outdated travel ban."

If adopted following the comment period, the regulations will then require implementation. The final timeline for that action remains to be determined, though Tiven said she hoped, and expected, that to happen by year's end.

To endorse the HHS regulations, visit the Immigration Equality petition site online. The organization has also put together a video outlining the history of the HIV ban, and the campaign to repeal it, which is included here.

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