Senate to HIV-Positive Immigrants: Go Home!
New America Media, Commentary, Adam Francoeur Posted: Sep 21, 2006
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you think current immigration restrictions against HIV-positive would-be immigrants are harsh, wait till you see what Senate Bill 2611 wants to do, writes Adam Francoeur, policy coordinator of Immigration Equality.
NEW YORK -- People living with HIV are banned from entering the United States. If you apply for a green card, you’ll be tested. If that test proves positive, your application will be denied and you’ll be deported, unless you meet the stringent requirements for an HIV waiver.
These are the harsh realities awaiting HIV-positive immigrants in the United States and those seeking to come here. There are currently waiver opportunities for some individuals who have qualifying family members, but simply having a family member doesn’t guarantee the waiver will be granted. The Senate bill (S.2611) proposes several new provisions that seek to punish further HIV-positive immigrants.
The undocumented population and all guest workers, the supposed beneficiaries of the Senate proposal, are to be tested en masse for HIV. If an individual tests positive, he or she would be denied a visa and deported. Normally, relatives such as spouses, children, and parents could serve as the basis for an HIV waiver application, but the Senate bill proposes an end to all health-related waivers for guest workers and the undocumented population. Meaning, they will be treated literally worse than criminals who will have access to some waivers. This proposal portends more hardships and policy failure for the HIV-positive immigrant community.
The most common arguments favored by those who support health exclusions center on the protection of the public health and public funds. In reality the denial of all health-related waivers is anathema in many ways to the central goals of U.S. immigration policy. One of these goals is the preservation of family unity. According to the Government Accountability Office, 65 percent of all “green card” applications are based on family relationships. Denying waivers to people who have a health concern separates sick individuals from those who can best care for them, their families.
Another justification for the HIV ban is safeguarding the public health. Instead of protecting the HIV-positive and negative populations, denying health-related waivers diminishes the likelihood of treatment for individuals with HIV/AIDS, and scapegoats immigrants for the further spread of HIV. Eliminating health waivers discourages HIV status disclosure, putting public health at risk by driving underground people living with HIV. Being “underground” and living with HIV usually means ineffective treatment and a lack of counseling about how HIV/AIDS is spread. It doesn’t take an incredible intellectual leap to understand how this could drive up domestic infection rates.
Likewise, those who argue against admitting HIV-positive individuals cite the expense of treating people with HIV. The economic argument makes little more sense: individuals require health care to obtain waivers. By denying HIV-positive immigrants waivers, the Senate will push individuals who have viable job offers and health insurance into the shadows. Individuals without the ability to obtain health insurance are more likely to rely on costly and ineffective emergency medical care and drive up health care costs for all.
While it now appears that comprehensive immigration reform is on the shelf until the next Congress, those who care about positive immigration reform should give pause and regroup because we need to produce a better bill when the next Congress convenes. While there was never much hope for positive reform of the current HIV immigration policy, few expected a proposal to eliminate all health waivers. There’s a better way and it begins with recognizing the value of health waivers.
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