Metro Weekly

Members of Congress demand information on HIV status being used for family separations

Congressmen ask DHS to explain which medical conditions are used to justify family separations

Congressman Jamie Raskin – Photo: House Judiciary Committee.

Four congressmen, including a committee chairman and subcommittee chairman, are demanding more information about U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s use of HIV status and other diseases as justification for separating migrant children from their parents.

U.S. Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), chair of the House Oversight Committee’s Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee, Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.), and Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleelan asking about CBP’s policy regarding family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The congressional members’ letter was based on testimony given by CBP Chief Brian Hastings before the House Judiciary Committee last week, in which Hastings claimed that a parent with HIV would be separated from their children under guidance deeming the condition a “communicable disease.”

In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention removed HIV status from a list of conditions that would prevent a person from entering the United States. 

Hastings later walked back his comments, clarifying that HIV was not considered a communicable disease but noting that separations were made on a “case-by-case basis.” For example, if a parent’s HIV status required them to be hospitalized, it might be in the child’s best interests to be separated from their parent.

“We write to express our profound concern that Customs and Border Protection agents may be separating children from their parents on the basis of the parent’s HIV status,” the letter reads. “We know of no legal or moral basis for such a cruel and senseless policy and, in light of contradictory statements from your Department on the issue, we seek immediate clarification and official renunciation of any such policy.”

The congressmen note in their letter that under a court injunction in a currently active lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement that “the government is allowed to separate families at the border only for specific reasons, among them a significant criminal history or a ‘communicable disease.'”

“[T]here have been more than 700 cases of separation since the injunction and there are numerous reports that suggest these guidelines are being abused,” the congressmen wrote. “Among them, there is at least one reported case of a parent being separated from his three daughters because he is HIV-positive.”

The letter notes that testimony given by McAleelan on July 18 about DHS’s policy — namely, that “HIV status, by itself, should not be the basis for separating a parent from his or her children” — conflicts with Hastings’ testimony from last week.

Referencing Hastings’ subsequent clarification of CBP’s policy, the congressmen write: “While it is somewhat reassuring to know that CBP would not separate a family based solely on a parent’s HIV status, this statement continues to raise troubling questions about how a CBP officer might apply this vague and subjective standard to an individual parent who is HIV-positive.”

They also ask the Department of Homeland Security to provide them with: 1) a complete list of health conditions that could trigger a family separation under the “communicable disease” provision of CBP’s guidance; 2) any guidance on how to determine whether a parent’s health status should be used to justify separation; 3) guidance or policies regarding the use of HIV status as justification for separating families; 4) the number of cases where a child has been separated from a parent due to the parent’s HIV status; and 5) the legal basis for using HIV as a reason for family separations.

After Hastings’ initial testimony, several HIV advocates, as well as LGBTQ organizations, condemned the policy as described by Hastings.

David Stacy, the Human Rights Campaign’s director of government affairs, blasted the Trump administration, saying: “”It is illegal under federal law to use HIV status as a bar to entry into the United States and should never be used as a reason to separate families. The cruelty of the Trump-Pence Administration knows no bounds.”

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