August 1, 2019

Is Customs and Border Patrol Endangering People with HIV and Their Children?

At a House Judiciary Committee hearing last Thursday, Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) asked Brian Hastings, Chief of Law Enforcement for the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), if his staff were told to separate immigrant parents from their children at the border if the parent was living with HIV. Hastings said they are so required because, “it’s a communicable disease under the guidance.” Noting that the flu is also a communicable disease, Rankin asked if border staff would similarly separate children from a parent with the flu. Hastings replied they would not.

The CBP attempted to walk these statements back the next day in a statement to Raskin’s office saying that the CBP “would not separate families due to the communicable nature of HIV,” adding that HIV “does present additional considerations that may affect how migrants might move forward in processing.” If a parent needs hospitalization, for example, a decision would be made regarding whether it would be better for the child to “wait for their parent in CBP or Health and Human Services custody.”

Nearly a decade ago (in 2010), the CDC removed HIV from the list of communicable diseases of public health significance that bar immigrants from entering the US. Representative Raskin’s concern about possible regression on this issue was triggered by a case last November in which three girls (ages 11, 12 and 14) were separated at the border from their father who has HIV. According to KIND (Kids in Need of Defense, an organization tracking the case) a permanent separation was ordered and the girls have not seen their father since. Other recent, HIV-related tragedies include the case of a transgender woman with HIV who died last April in CBP custody, where she was provided with no access to HIV care and treatment.

On July 29, Rep. Raskin and three other members of Congress sent a letter to Kevin K. McAleenan, Acting Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security on this issue. It expresses profound concern about DHS policy and implementation, noting that the separation of children from parents on the basis of the parent’s HIV status “flies in the face of expert judgement of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.”  The letter asks DHS to “promptly provide us with a full explanation of the Policy and Practice of the Department of Homeland Security with respect to parents and other individuals encountered at or near the border who are HIV-positive, particularly with respect to family separation.” A full copy of their letter is available here.

View the latest Policy Update here.