Immigrants infected with HIV may no longer be banned from living in the U.S. for the first time in more than 20 years.

A $50 billion Senate bill (SB 2731) intended to combat AIDS in Africa and other impoverished areas may effectively repeal a 1987 ban prohibiting travel and immigration for people infected with HIV. The U.S. is one of several countries to have such a rule, including Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Russia, the Associated Press reports.

Supporters of the proposal say the policy is dated and must be eliminated. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass, said even China has lifted its ban against travelers with the disease.

“[It’s] time to move beyond an antiquated, knee-jerk reaction” to HIV-infected people, Kerry said. “There’s no excuse for a law that stigmatizes a particular disease.”

He said even immigrants with avian flu or Ebola virus have a smoother path to citizenship than those with HIV.

Kerry and Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., have stepped up efforts to revoke the ban and have piggybacked their plan to AIDS legislation expected to pass as early as this week.

According to the AP, while HIV-infected foreigners, students and tourists are allowed to apply for permission to visit for a short period of time, such waivers are difficult to come by, and permanent residency can be nearly impossible to for them to acquire.

Kerry and Smith are proposing to make HIV, the only listed disease under immigration law, equal to other medical conditions subject to Health and Human Service Department approval before a person will be admitted into the country. However, HIV-infected immigrants who intend to live in the U.S. permanently must show that they will not become a “public charge.”

Allison Herwitt, legislative director of the Human Rights Campaign, a “gay” and lesbian rights organization, told the AP the U.S. has outgrown discriminatory travel restrictions.

The current ban was “adopted during a time of widespread fear and ignorance about the HIV virus,” she said.

Nearly 160 health and AIDS organizations recently sent a petition to Congress requesting removal of the immigration ban.

“Health care professionals, researchers and other exceptionally talented people have been blocked from the United States,” it said. “Since 1993, the International Conference on AIDS has not been held on U.S. soil due to this policy.”

While the proposal raises the cost of visitor’s visas by $1 for three years and $2 for the next five years, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., estimates lifting the restriction could impose a financial burden of more than $80 million in 10 years.

“Most people just don’t want to talk about that,” he said.


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