U.S. Restrictions on AIDS-Infected Visitors Challenged : Health: The White House is urged to ease visa barriers. An international conference on the disease is set for next month in San Francisco.
Challenging the Bush Administration’s claim that it cannot remove an immigration barrier against AIDS-infected people, two congressmen Tuesday released documents that they said showed that the policy can be changed through executive action.
“Now the Administration cannot beg the question (of travel restrictions) with legalisms any longer,” said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the House energy and commerce subcommittee. “Any further rationalization and delay cannot be explained.”
But White House Deputy Press Secretary Alixe Glen said the President does not intend to take action because he “continues to believe that the issue of amending or reversing the congressional mandate rests with the Congress.” She said, however, that the President would support congressional legislation reversing the measure.
The travel restrictions on people with AIDS have come under mounting global criticism during the past year, particularly as June’s international AIDS conference in San Francisco nears.
The law enacted by Congress in 1987 added the AIDS-inflicted to the list of people denied entry because of disease. The Administration, saying it does not have the power to change the law, instead has offered to issue special 10-day visas to enable travelers to attend certain conferences deemed “in the public interest” by the secretary of health and human services. The special visas would not require foreigners to declare whether they are infected with the AIDS virus.
This solution has been attacked as unsatisfactory by many in the AIDS network, who have threatened to boycott the San Francisco conference and other important scientific and medical meetings.
Waxman and Rep. J. Roy Rowland (D-Ga.), a physician and member of the National Commission on AIDS, released a memo Tuesday from the U.S. comptroller general concluding the law that added AIDS to the list of “dangerous contagious” diseases “does not clearly bar” the President or the HHS secretary from “later deciding that (AIDS) infection is not a dangerous contagious disease. . . . “
The memo said the measure--passed as an amendment to a 1987 supplemental appropriations bill--may have been effective only for the fiscal year to which the appropriation act applied.
“If that were the case, its effect . . . might be said to have expired with the appropriation, at the end of fiscal year 1987,” the memo said.
Dr. Mervyn F. Silverman, president of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, said the opinion by the comptroller general gives the President “the perfect opportunity to take the high road.”
The memo further said control of the list of diseases continues to remain with the secretary of health and human services. Rowland, seeking to clarify the authority, recently introduced legislation that would give the secretary of health and human services power to change the list.
The lawmakers also released an internal memo written by Dr. James O. Mason, assistant secretary for health, to HHS Secretary Louis W. Sullivan urging that AIDS and six other conditions--including leprosy and several treatable sexually transmitted diseases--be removed from the list because the policy was “outdated.” He proposed leaving only tuberculosis on the list.
“Unlike the other diseases on the list, tuberculosis can be transmitted through the air and an infectious person can place others at risk through casual contact,” Mason wrote.
As to the other conditions, Mason wrote, " . . . there is no public health value in continued screening. . . . “
He suggested the secretary order the removal of the six conditions other than AIDS, and that the Administration offer a legislative proposal to delete AIDS from the list.