Immigration Federal Privacy Policy May Have Impacted HIV Status Among Black American Women

Immigration Federal Privacy Policy May Have Impacted HIV Status Among Black American Women

Before January 2010, foreign nationals with an HIV positive test were banned to enter and stay in the United States.

A recent interview revealed that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officers upheld a dangerous federal privacy policy that may have impacted the HIV status of many African American women and children because of marriages to African men. 

The Center for Immigration Studies interviewed Richard Lee, a retired DHS adjudicator from Charleston, South Carolina. He is no stranger to sharing his journey into the hidden corners of the American immigration system.

As the author of After the Border: 42 Eye-Opening, Shocking, Crazy, Happy & Fun Stories, Lee unravels “often obscured” narratives, especially those that “employ fraudulent marriages as a means to secure entry into the United States.” Among other stories, Lee encountered African men during the adjudication process who did not disclose to their African-American wives that they were HIV positive

“DHS had ruled that privacy (for the HIV-carrying male alien) was regarded as more important than the health of: 1) the woman involved, usually a Black U.S. citizen; 2) any babies born to that couple; and 3) by extension, the public health of Americans generally,” the report found based on Lee’s testimony.

According to Lee, from 2003 to 2008, immigrants seeking entry in the U.S. were required to submit proof of a negative HIV test. A positive result, on the other hand, “could bar the applicant” from entering and residing in the country. But immigrants were able to “waive that HIV status” through the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, which was dissolved in 2003. Most of the petitions were approved.

Lee said that he and his fellow officers were forbidden to tell the wife of the husband’s health condition. This was especially enforced in Atlanta, where he witnessed several such cases a week. In essence, the system essentially found “immigration-related spouse-deception” permissible, the Center for Immigration Studies noted.

Despite these orders, some officers tried to alert the family indirectly without completely dishonoring the federal privacy policy. According to Lee—

“I had a West African male come into the immigration office. As I reviewed his case and started the adjudication process, I looked at his medical records … every applicant who comes into the office must submit an I-693 medical exam for adjustment of status. On that medical exam, they must list any medical conditions they have…”

“Some of the standard questions that we asked were discussed with the [other] immigration officers. We frequently asked, ‘Hey, are you guys planning on having children?’ And inevitably, the African American woman almost always said, ‘Yes, we’re planning on having kids.’ The West African man would always say, ‘No, I’m not planning on having kids because of HIV.’ I separated the husband and wife during the interview. … And I would always ask the West African man … ‘Have you told your spouse that you have HIV?’ All the time, the men would respond, ‘No, I have not told her.’”

During that time, most experts assumed that more than 90% of HIV in African adults resulted from heterosexual transmission. Meanwhile, as of December 31, 2000, 774,467 persons had been reported with AIDS in the United States, the CDC reported.

Of those individuals, 448,060 of these had died, and 3,542 persons had “unknown vital status.” Of the number of persons living with AIDS (322,865), 79% were men, 61% were black or Hispanic, and 41% were infected through male-to-male sex.

In January 2010, the ban on HIV-positive foreign nationals ended and stopped being an automatic ground for inadmissibility.