The HIV Travel Ban

Here's some more information, related to my post earlier. Bill Clinton did sign the travel ban into law in 1993, but it was first proposed by (drum roll) Jesse Helms in 1987. A reader remembers the timeline better than I do:

I started working on this issue when it first surfaced after the ban was created by the Reagan Administration in 1987. (I started working in the House, for then-Rep. Norman Mineta, earlier that year.) A little research on your part would have shown you this history:

The Reagan White House pressured the Public Health Service to include HIV on the list of excludable conditions in 1987. They did. There were protests about that, as the vast majority of public health experts believed that only active tuberculosis belonged on the list. In response, and in order to make sure the PHS’ decision was protected, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) authored an amendment in the Senate to put HIV on the list statutorily. The Senate adopted it on a voice vote, with Democrats thinking that because HIV was already on the list, the amendment was redundant.

We tried to get rid of it in the 1990 immigration bill by mandating that the list would henceforth be maintained by the CDC, and that it would include only conditions with a solid medical justification. To his credit, President Bush (41) signed it into law, and his CDC issued a rule in 1991 knocking everything off the list except tuberculosis. There was a revolt in the Republican Conference in the House, led by then Rep. Bill Dannemeyer (R-CA). The CDC pulled the rule and the INS kept the old list in place.

Clinton campaigned on a promise to remove the ban. Shortly after he got to the White House, in February of 1993, Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK) offered an amendment to the NIH reauthorization to keep the old list. Ted Kennedy tried to offer an alternative, but it failed 42-56. The Nickles Amendment then passed 76-23.

(All 23 “no” votes were Democrats. Notably, Joe Lieberman was one of the “yes” votes one of the many early examples of his cozying up to Jesse Helms on gay rights and AIDS/HIV issues.

When the House and Senate went to conference on the bill, then-Rep. Tom Bliley (R-VA) offered a motion to instruct conferees to agree to the Nickles Amendment.  It passed 356 to 58. Again, all 58 who voted “No” were Democrats (plus Bernie Sanders). At that point, both chambers of Congress had voted to block Clinton's planned executive order by veto-proof margins.  When Congress sent Clinton the NIH authorization in June of 1993, he signed it.

The countries that have a similar ban on all HIV-positive tourists, travelers and immigrants are Armenia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Iraq, Libya, Moldavia, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Sudan and the U.S. Great company, no? This president has an opportunity to finish what his father started, and remove the irrational stigma that treats HIV like TB for immigration purposes. Let's hope Mark Dybul continues the great start he has made.