AIDS/HIV No Longer A Barrier To U.S. Entry; Obama Changes A 22-Year-Old Rule

Blood testing in a medical facility in Ethiopia.
Image via Wikipedia

Today’s New York Times reports the lifting of a 22-year-old rule, barring those testing positive for HIV and AIDS from visiting or immigrating to the U.S.:

“Under the ban, United States health authorities have been required to list H.I.V. infection as a “communicable disease of public health significance.” Under immigration law, most foreigners with such a disease cannot travel to the United States. The ban covered both visiting tourists and foreigners seeking to live in this country.

Once the ban is lifted, foreigners applying to become residents in the United States will no longer be required to take a test for AIDS.

In practice, the ban particularly affected tourists and gay men. Waivers were available, but the procedure for tourists and other short-term visitors who were H.I.V. positive was so complicated that many concluded it was not worth it.

For foreigners hoping to immigrate, waivers were available for people who were in a heterosexual marriage, but not for gay couples. Gay advocates said the ban had led to painful separations in families with H.I.V.-positive members that came to live in this country, and had discouraged adoptions of children with the virus.

Gay advocates said the ban also discouraged travelers and some foreigners already living in the United States from seeking testing and medical care for H.I.V. infection.

“The connection between immigration and H.I.V. has frightened people away from testing and treatment,” said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, a group that advocates for gay people in immigration matters. She said lifting the ban would bring “a significant public health improvement.”

“Stigma and exclusion are not a sound basis for immigration policy,” Ms. Tiven said.

I moved to the U.S. as a permanent legal resident in 1988 from Canada, and had to have an AIDS test before I was granted my green card. As a heterosexual, non-drug-using woman who had never had a blood transfusion, someone who had been using condoms consistently — having covered AIDS for several newspapers in the 1980s,  I was well-versed in the dangers — this felt creepy, invasive and a little frightening. My then-partner, a medical resident, took my blood in the privacy of his office (“Nice veins!” was one of his oddest compliments) and we awaited the results from the small, local community hospital where he was training. We weren’t especially worried about the results, but in a small, gossipy rural town and his workplace it felt even more invasive to me.

I was clean. I was in. It felt weird that my blood contained the ultimate decisive factor in my carefully considered, life-changing decision to come to the U.S. to work and live.

I’m glad this ban has been lifted.

Massachusetts Reduces Some State Health Care To Five-Year Legal Residents. Fair?

Deval Patrick
Mass. governor Deval Patrick, Image via Wikipedia

Does this seem like a smart compromise? Now only legal immigrants who have lived in Massachusetts for more than five years with a green card can receive dental, hospice or skilled nursing care, reports today’s New York Times. Some of the rest will now face stiff new co-pays — up to $50 for non-generic prescription drugs, instead of $1 to $3 — and have to find new doctors.

Under the state’s three-year-old law requiring all residents to have universal health coverage, the state has the country’s lowest percentage of uninsured residents, 2.6 percent, versus a national average of 15 percent.

The state, says Governor Patrick Deval, has to save money somewhere and this is where they’ve drawn the line. Last in, first out. The move will affect 31,000 immigrants.

As someone who moved to N.H. and then to N.Y., and who had has a green card for 21 years, this wouldn’t affect me, but this decision bothers me. As anyone who comes to a new country can very quickly and painfully discover, a terrific job like the one(s) you might have had in your home country can prove extremely elusive. Your credentials and training, lengthy resume and excellent skills can — like your native currency — suddenly and surprisingly plummet in value when you make the enormous decision to move to the U.S. and stay. A recession, a job loss, a prolonged job search, a thin social safety net, all these affect new immigrants, at a wide range of skill and educational levels, not just dishwashers and other low-wage, low-skill work, the ones most often portrayed as the only immigrants.

In those first five years, many immigrants are trying to gain, or regain, their economic footing, make new friends, create some sense of security and community. It’s the worst possible time to lose whatever few government benefits are actually available to them. Under a 1996 federal law, immigrants do not qualify for Medicaid or other federal aid. It’s your wallet, the state’s wallet or your employer’s wallet.

If all three are empty, tough luck.