The Surrey, B.C., man was on his way to Bellingham, Wash., for the Remembrance Day long weekend last November to shop, with the Canadian dollar trading at about $1.07 against the greenback. After lining up for four hours to reach the U.S. customs booth, he was asked where he worked.
"I said I was on disability. He said what's my disability. I said I have HIV," said the 47-year-old, who was diagnosed in 1989.
The customs officer told him he needed a special visa waiver to enter the country, even though Canadians do not require a visa to travel to the United States.
"He hauled me into a backroom. ... He put on a set of rubber gloves to hold each of my fingers. Nobody else wore rubber gloves. Then he fingerprinted me, photographed me, ran me through the FBI's most-wanted list and told me to go back to Canada and not return until I came back with a waiver," Mr. Rooney said. "I felt like I was being treated like a terrorist."
Now that China is removing the ban on HIV travelers (because of potential embarrassment around the Olympics), the US is now one of only 12 nations that still treats people with HIV like criminals if they cross the US border. Among them: Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the Sudan. Removing this draconian ban, introduced by Jesse Helms two decades ago, is long, long overdue. It was passed when panic, hysteria and quarantining were the rage about HIV and AIDS. We've moved on so far from there - even Jesse Helms came to regret his stance on people with AIDS. The US, moreover, leads the world in HIV research and is now leading the world in helping Africans with HIV. A bipartisan group of senators Gordon Smith, John Kerry, Richard Lugar, among others have introduced legislation to get rid of this bill still that treats people with HIV as if they have an easily infectious disease like leprosy (yes, that's the class of illness HIV is now in). The House, alas, has yet to agree to remove the ban in the same legislation renewing the president's AIDS relief program for Africa. If we are doing so much to help these people and remove the stigma of AIDS in Africa, why are still stigmatizing them and every other tourist with HIV in our travel and immigration laws?
Email Nancy Pelosi's office to ask her to support the House's inclusion of this repeal in the PEPFAR renewal.