Obama Ends U.S. Travel Ban On Visitors, Immigrants With HIV-AIDS

ABC News' Rachel Martin reports:

Starting Monday, foreigners with HIV-AIDS will be able to travel or immigrate to the United States without having to get a waiver from the Department of Homeland Security.

Today President Obama eliminated a travel ban that had been in place since 1993, forbidding people with HIV-AIDS from travelling to the US. “If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it,” the President said today.

He tipped his hat to his predecessor for starting the process. “Congress and President Bush began this process last year, and they ought to be commended for it. We are finishing the job. It's a step that will encourage people to get tested and get treatment, it's a step that will keep families together, and it's a step that will save lives.”

The President announced the repeal of the ban in a ceremony marking the fourth re-authorization of the Ryan White CARE Act, legislation that provides treatment for low-income HIV/AIDS victims. The legislation was named after the Indiana teenager who contracted HIV from a blood transfusion in 1984. White was suspended from school because of his disease and became the national poster child for a disease that until then, had been coined a “gay affliction.”

“It has been nearly three decades since this virus first became known,” Obama said. “But for years, we refused to recognize it for what it was. It was coined a ‘gay disease.’ Those who had it were viewed with suspicion. There was a sense among some that people afflicted by AIDS somehow deserved their fate and that it was acceptable for our nation to look the other way.”

The President said the CARE Act is a crucial tool in the fight against HIV/AIDS. “It helps communities that are most severely affected by this epidemic and often least served by our health care system, including minority communities, the LGBT community, rural communities, and the homeless. It's often the only option for the uninsured and the underinsured. And it provides life-saving medical services to more than half a million Americans every year, in every corner of the country.”

But the President cited statistics that illustrate the pernicious effect of a disease that while less devastating than in decades past, still afflicts a large portion of the US population. “This is a battle that’s far from over and it’s a battle that all of us need to do our part to join….AIDS may no longer be the leading killer of Americans ages 25 to 44, as it once was. But there are still 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States, and more than 56,000 new infections occur every single year.”

In addition, the President stated the following stats:

*Gay men make up 2 or 3 percent of the general population, but more than half of all new cases. *African Americans make up roughly half of all new cases. *Nearly all new cases now occur in the southern part of the U.S. *Seven percent of Washington D.C.’s residents between the ages of 40 and 49 live with HIV/AIDS

After Ryan White died in 1990, the act named in his honor was passed later that same year. White’s mother Jeanne White Ginder was present at the signing ceremony today. “We can't give Ryan White back to Jeanne, back to his mom,” the President said.

“But what we can do -- what the legislation that I'm about to sign has done for nearly 20 years -- is honor the courage that he and his family showed. What we can do is to take more action and educate more people. What we can do is keep fighting each and every day until we eliminate this disease from the face of the Earth.”

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