President Obama said today that he is lifting a longstanding ban on travel to the United States or immigration to the country by HIV-Positive individuals.
The president made the announcement at the signing of an extension of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS bill at the White House. He said the policy was "rooted in fear rather than fact." (At left, A large AIDS ribbon hangs from the North Portico of the White House in Washington, Friday, Nov. 30, 2007, in honor of World AIDS Day.)
"We talk about reducing the stigma of this disease -- yet we've treated a visitor living with it as a threat," he said. "We lead the world when it comes to helping stem the AIDS pandemic -- yet we are one of only a dozen countries that still bar people from HIV from entering our own country."
Mr. Obama said Congress and President Bush began the process to end the ban last year and ought to be commended for it.
"We are finishing the job," he said.
The president said the lifting of the ban will go into effect just after the new year.
The reauthorization of the separate Ryan White HIV/AIDS bill, Mr. Obama said, had been contentious in the past, though not this year. (It was originally called the Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act, and first passed in 1990.)
"We often speak about AIDS as if it's going on somewhere else," he said. "And for good reason -- this is a virus that has touched lives and decimated communities around the world, particularly in Africa. But often overlooked is the fact that we face a serious HIV/AIDS epidemic of our own -- right here in Washington, D.C., and right here in the United States of America."
The president spoke of how White, who was 13-years-old when he was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS contracted during a blood transfusion, was ostracized in his Indiana town.
"People didn't yet understand or believe that the virus couldn't be spread by casual contact," he said. "Parents protested Ryan's attendance in class. Some even pulled their kids out of school. Things got so bad that the White family had to ultimately move to another town."
The president lauded White and his family for speaking out and helping bring about a better understanding of the disease. White's mother Jeanne White-Ginder was present at the ceremony.
The legislation, he said, means help for communities most hit by the disease and is "often the only option for the uninsured and the underinsured." He said it provides services that save lives to more than half a million Americans.
The president also rattled off some sobering statistics at the signing, including the fact that "a staggering 7 percent of Washington, D.C.'s residents between the ages of 40 and 49 live with HIV/AIDS -- and the epidemic here isn't as severe as it is in several other U.S. cities."