Friday, July 18, 2008

Liberty, Equality and Sanity

In a nation founded on the principles of liberty and equality, one might expect our immigration laws to reflect both of these ideals, as well as at least a modicum of sanity. The laws might, for example, protect individuals seeking liberty and treat equally those applying to immigrate. Unfortunately, that's often not the approach taken by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), but we've seen two major developments this month that have inched our immigration laws slightly closer to these goals. On the liberty front, on July 1, President Bush signed into law H.R. 5690, a bill exempting members of the African National Congress from being treated as members of a "terrorist organization" -- a label that would, under current immigration law, render an individual ineligible for entry into the United States. While Nelson Mandela (90 years old today; see post below) and his comrades must be breathing easier, the astounding breadth of the definition of "terrorist activity" in the Immigration and Nationality Act still captures plenty of freedom fighters and innocent victims of terrorist groups, as further explained here.
And on the equality front, on Wednesday, as part of the reauthorization of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Senate voted to end the travel ban levied against HIV positive individuals wishing to visit the United States. This bill also boosts spending on HIV/AIDS relief from $15 billion to $48 billion over 5 years (pending appropriations), increases the number of health care professionals working on HIV/AIDS, and eliminates the abstinence earmark that required one-third of all prevention funds go to abstinence-only programs. Notably, Section 203 "recognizes the need to expand the range of interventions for preventing the transmission of HIV, including non-vaccine prevention methods that can be controlled by women." Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic reports that the Senate sponsors will probably avoid a conference with the House and send the bill straight to the President for signature. According to Immigration Equality, the HIV travel ban was first introduced in 1987 and codified in 1993 at the behest of Senator Jesse Helms, a longtime foe of human rights advocates. It led to the first Guantanamo controversy, over the quarantine of HIV-positive Haitians, as well as a boycott of the United States as a forum for international HIV/AIDS conferences. Here's hoping that sane minds prevail, and that the HIV travel ban will soon be a relic of immigration laws past.

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