An Aug 16 rally in support of lifting all travel restrictions on HIV positive visitors to the United States took place at the Peace Arch at the Canada-US border. Canadian Martin Rooney, who was denied entry into the United States in 2007 because he is HIV positive, organized the event. “Please Mr Obama lift this ban now,” said Rooney to approximately 30 attendees. “There is no medical science to support that HIV is a contagious disease that presents a threat to public health or national security of the United States.” He said the immediate publication of new regulations removing remaining travel restrictions would be “an enormous step forward” in treating HIV positive people with the dignity they deserve.”Former US president George W Bush lifted an outright ban in 2008, but HIV positive visitors are still required to submit a waiver before entering the United States. On World AIDS Day 2006, Bush instructed the secretary of homeland security to “initiate a rulemaking that would propose a categorical waiver for HIV-positive people seeking to enter the United States on short-term visas.”At the time, AIDS activists were cautiously optimistic but wary about what shape the new rules would take.The US has barred HIV-positive travellers and potential immigrants from entering the country since 1987. Congress codified this policy in 1993, as part of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), meaning it would take an act of Congress to reverse the ban completely.Under the new rules, waiver applicants would have to agree to give up the ability to apply for a change in status while in the US, including applying for legal permanent residence.Applicants would also have to travel with all of their HIV meds needed during the trip, prove they have medical insurance accepted in the US, and prove they won’t engage in behaviour that might put the American public at risk.David Parsons, who enjoys travelling to Seattle to watch professional sports, spoke about his experience with the new waivers. “Once you figure out the process, it takes maybe five days to get [the waiver],” he said. “It’s pretty easy and it costs $135. It’s not the best but it’s an improvement. You just go to an American consulate website and click on visa and you just follow the instructions from there.”But Rooney opposes the waiver on principle.“If I have a contagious disease of significant public threat to the United States and its people then $135 US doesn’t make me any less of a threat,” he said. “So on those grounds alone I will not apply for the United States waiver.”The restrictions, according to many rally attendees, serve as a reminder of the stigma faced by people living with HIV and AIDS. Sonia Marino, who works for an AIDS service organization, says she knows many people who face discrimination at the border due to their perceived HIV status.
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