JULY 17, 2008
The celebrated, bipartisan-supported bill passed by the Senate this week to fight AIDS in Africa and other poor nations also lifts a longtime congressional ban on immigration and travel to the U.S. by people with the deadly disease.
Not surprisingly, mainstream media coverage has largely focused on all the positives of the new law, which creates a $50 billion program to treat and prevent AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in more than a dozen countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. The money will support lifesaving antiretroviral treatment for nearly 2 million people infected with AIDS in those countries.
But buried in the legislation is an alarming provision that will end a ban, imposed by Congress in 1993, on immigration and travel to the U.S. by people with AIDS. The absurd provision allows the Department of Health and Human Services to decide whether to take AIDS off its list of communicable diseases, which is equally deranged since there is no disputing that it is in fact a communicable disease.
That is precisely why AIDS as well as HIV have been on the department’s list since 1987. To create legislation that would somehow allow the government agency in charge of protecting Americans’ health to make an exception for this particular communicable disease is outrageous and downright dangerous.
One senator, who is considering offering an amendment to eliminate that portions of the popular bill, cites a Congressional Budget Office estimate that the new infected immigrants entering the U.S. under the relaxed policy could cost the government more than $80 billion over a decade.
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