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Stigma

Border Control Separating Kids from Parents With HIV

family separation

Calling HIV a communicable disease, Border Control chief justifies family separation.

At today's meeting for House Judiciary Oversight of Family Separation and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, CBP Chief Brian Hastings acknowledged that a parent living with HIV is enough for border agents to justify separating them from their children.

He claimed that this was the "guidance" the agency had in relation to communicable diseases. But under questioning he did not indicate where the guidelines came from, nor could he explain why being poz would put someone's children at risk. 

In one exchange, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) asked, "If a mother or father has an HIV positive status, is that alone enough to justify separation from their child?"

CBP Chief Brian Hastings replied, "It is because it's a communicable disease under the guidance."

"We have reports of kids being separated from their parents on that basis," Raskin continued. "Is that what we mean by communicable disease? It's not communicable from contact."

Hastings reiterated, "That's the guidance that we follow."

Raskin tries to determine where the guidance came from, asking if it was the advice of their legal counsel or came from Border Control's leadership.

Hastings answers, "I'm not sure if that came from legal counsel. I believe that is defined as a communicable disease."

Raskin takes another approach, asking, "Do you have a list of the communicable diseases?"

"Not with me, sir, no," Hastings says.

"I mean the flu is communicable. Would we separate parents from their kids if a mom or dad had the flu?" Raskins asks poignantly.

"We're not, sir" Hastings replies.

Although HIV is a communicable disease, transmission is relatively difficult, unlike the flu, tuberculosis, or measles. It's absolutely not transmittable via common practices like kissing, hugging, bathing together, or sharing silverware, and is primarily transmitted through anal or vaginal sex and reuse of injection drug needles.

Though most migrants experience treatment disruptions while in custody, anyone who is living with HIV but on treatment that's lowered their viral count to undetectible levels cannot transmit HIV to someone else, even through sex or injection drug use.

HIV organizations off the record say they are quickly working on a response to today's comments, reminding folks that separating parents from their children just because a parent is living with the virus is scientifically unsound and morally outrageous.

View the full exchange below. (HIV is discussed around the 2:27 mark.)

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Jacob Anderson-Minshall

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