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Dutch AIDS Patient Freed, Travels to S.F.

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Times Staff Writer

AIDS activists and public health officials Saturday welcomed a 31-year-old Dutch AIDS patient who gained worldwide attention after being jailed last week while attempting to enter the United States to attend a health conference here.

Hans Paul Verhoef of Rotterdam arrived in San Francisco late Friday after being freed by U.S. Immigration Judge Robert Vinikoor, who ruled that Verhoef’s three-week visit posed “minimal risk to the United States.”

For Verhoef and other advocates of AIDS patients, Verhoef’s ordeal underscored what some have called the foolishness of U.S. regulations that bar foreigners who carry the AIDS-causing human immunodeficiency virus from entering the country--as well as the determination of Immigration and Naturalization Service officials to enforce those regulations.

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Verhoef had been excluded under regulations adopted in 1987 that added HIV infection to the list of “dangerous contagious diseases.” The regulations provide waivers to visitors who can show that the danger to the public health will be minimal and that there will be no costs incurred to governmental agencies by the visit.

Verhoef was freed after the Board of Immigration Appeals rejected the INS appeal of the judge’s order.

Flanked by public health officials and AIDS activists, Verhoef on Saturday described his six days in custody at a press conference that was punctuated by calls for changes in INS policies that prohibit people infected with the virus from entering the country.

Verhoef said that trying to stop AIDS at national borders “is like trying to stop water with a net,” a view echoed by most public health officials.

The tall, thin blond man, who was diagnosed with Kaposi’s sarcoma, a cancer associated with AIDS, last October, told of being handcuffed and fingerprinted the night he arrived at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport from Amsterdam. He was detained when the anti-AIDS drug AZT was discovered in his luggage.

He also spoke of an outpouring of support for his plight. One mother who had lost a son to AIDS baked cookies for him, and Orville Pung, Minnesota commissioner of corrections, even took him out of jail one morning for breakfast at a cafe in Stillwater.

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AIDS experts said Verhoef’s case casts an international spotlight on efforts to quell the transmission of the virus by erecting barriers to travel, as well as the continuing need for basic AIDS education.

“This kind of screening undermines all the lessons we’ve learned about AIDS prevention and education,” said Richard Rector, a member of the World Health Organization’s Global Commission on AIDS.

Although the World Health Organization last year passed a resolution calling on member states to “protect the human rights and dignity” of HIV carriers and to avoid “discriminatory action” in such areas as employment and travel, about 45 nations, including the United States, have instituted regulations restricting the admission of HIV carriers from abroad. Most of the regulations deal with immigrants and long-term visitors.

INS officials said about a dozen people have been quietly turned away from U.S. borders on grounds they were infected with HIV. Verhoef’s case marked the first time someone had challenged the regulation and won.

Immigration Judge Vinikoor ruled that Verhoef could travel to San Francisco if he could post $10,000 bond and promised to leave the country in three weeks. The judge also said he believed Verhoef’s purpose for coming to the United States justifies the waiver.

The Minnesota AIDS Project put up Verhoef’s bond money.

INS Associate Commissioner Richard Norton ruled earlier Friday that Verhoef’s affliction poses “a danger to the public” although Verhoef is himself an AIDS prevention worker. Norton said that “sexual paraphernalia” was found in his luggage when he tried to enter the country, INS spokesman Verne Jervis said.

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“The Immigration and Nationality Act requires INS to exclude from the country persons afflicted with a dangerous contagious disease, such as AIDS, in order to protect the public health of the United States,” the agency said.

But Vinikoor said he would “accept his (Verhoef’s) word that he will avoid high-risk behavior” if admitted to the United States.

“In a way, I am glad that this episode has happened, because it has highlighted the foolishness of the (INS) regulation,” Dr. David Werdegar, the San Francisco health director, said at Saturday’s press conference. He said he hopes that the court’s decision will emphasize that AIDS “is not a communicable disease in a way that endangers the population at large.”

Werdegar and others said the Immigration Service regulation could hamper San Francisco’s plan to be host to the Sixth International Conference on AIDS in June, 1990. The city expects more than 10,000 foreign delegates to attend the conference, including some who have AIDS.

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