In a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court last week upheld President Trump’s travel ban on travelers from several Muslim-majority nations as constitutional. As such, it’s an important time to explore a prior travel ban for travelers to the U.S. and how it impacted significant meetings and, arguably, may have hindered important dialogue in the field of HIV/AIDS research. The following originally appeared in The Meeting Professional, March 2017.
Lest you think travel bans upending U.S.-based conferences is a new thing, please take a trip with us back to the waning years of President Ronald Reagan’s administration.
In 1987, HIV was added to the list of “dangerous and contagious diseases,” for which, if a person is infected they would be denied entrance into the U.S. In 1990, Congress granted Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis W. Sullivan authority to revise this list of diseases. Sullivan’s new list intentionally excluded HIV, a move in agreement with many in the medical and scientific community. The slow-moving debate on this proposed change began.
RELATED STORY: Discriminatory laws and the impact on meetings
In June of 1991, without a revised list approved, officials from the Harvard AIDS Institute notified President George H. W. Bush’s administration that should HIV remain on the list, the planned Eighth International AIDS Conference, scheduled for Boston the following year, would likely be cancelled. Two months later, in August 1991, Harvard announced that due to the uncertainty of the U.S. policy toward HIV-positive people (the revised disease list remained in debate), the Boston conference would not take place. On Sept. 11, 1991, the conference was officially moved to Amsterdam.
The ban on most HIV-infected persons entering the U.S. was reinforced in 1993 when President Bill Clinton approved the disease’s inclusion on the revised list of “dangerous and contagious diseases.” This travel ban continued for 17 years and, as a result, no major HIV/AIDS conferences were held in the U.S.
In January 2010, President Barack Obama officially ended the U.S. immigration ban on persons with HIV and it was announced that Washington, D.C., would host the 2012 International AIDS Conference.
And that’s how a travel ban effectively killed all major HIV/AIDS conferences in the U.S. for more than two decades, despite repeated appeals from professionals actually educated in the field.
In light of the latest U.S. immigration ban, writers Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus explained on STATnews.com that the HIV/AIDS ban “was a principled stand, but it would be difficult to argue that the [conference’s] move had any real effect on the ban… Its real effect was pragmatic: to make sure that more people could attend the meeting.”
“That points to a broader concern: If conferences don’t move, they’ll likely suffer—not because of the protest, but because of the travel ban itself.”
If you’ve got a story about how the travel ban has affected your business (positive or negative), please contact us.
RELATED STORY: Getting a grip on event firearms policies