WASHINGTON-President Obama fulfilled a promise from the early days of his presidency by announcing on Friday that he will lift a ban on non-citizens with HIV traveling to the United States, a move welcomed by Democrats and Republicans.
"We talk about reducing the stigma of this disease, yet we've treated a visitor living with it as a threat," the president said. The decision to introduce the ban in 1987, he said, was "rooted in fear rather than fact."
On Monday the administration will officially lift the ban, which originated as an executive order from President Reagan and then became law through an amendment from Republican Sen. Jesse Helms. The Department of Health and Human Services had HIV on a list of communicable diseases that prevented visitors from entering the country. President Bush signed the $48 billion AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis prevention bill in July 2008, removing the ban from immigration law. But the ban remained in HHS regulations, so HHS continued to enforce it.
"We lead the world when it comes to helping stem the AIDS pandemic," Obama said. "Yet we are one of only a dozen countries that still bar people from HIV from entering our own country."
On the international level, the United States under President Bush began an unprecedented multibillion-dollar program to fight AIDS, which has been largely successful. After President Obama took office, he bumped up federal spending on domestic AIDS programs by $107 million. According to a study released earlier in the year, Washington D.C.'s AIDS rate is epidemic, at 3 percent, and the disease affects all demographics in the city, not just homosexuals. About one million U.S. citizens are HIV positive.
President Obama announced the lifting of the ban as he signed the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Act, which provides support and education on HIV/AIDS domestically. In 1984, 13-year-old Hoosier Ryan White contracted the HIV virus through a transfusion, and died six years later.
Both congressional Democrats and Republicans attended the ceremony at the White House Friday.