In a move that would allow Harvard to host a major international AIDS conference in 1992, Congress last night was expected to pass a bill scaling back several immigration restrictions seen as discriminatory.
The immigration reform package, approved by a conference committee Thursday, would allow Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis W. Sullivan to remove rules barring individuals who test positive for AIDS or HIV infections from entering the country.
Harvard has strenuously protested the restricitons, and this summer threatened to drop sponsorship of the eighth annual International AIDS conference if the rules were not changed by November 1.
In fact, the entire AIDS conference might have been moved to a different country without the change in U.S. immigration policy, said John Shattuck, Harvard vice president for government, community and public affairs.
The sixth annual AIDS conference held in San Fransisco this summer was boycotted by some scientists and AIDS advocacy groups protesting the law.
Harvard has been coordinating its lobbying efforts with Senator Edward M. Kennedy '52-'54 (D-Mass.), who spearheaded the proposed immigration changes along with Rep. Barney Frank '61-'62 (D-Mass.).
"The bill opens the way for rational travel policies that don't discriminate against people with HIV," said Allan Fine, executive director of the Harvard AIDS Institute.
Both Harvard officials and congressional aides were optimistic that the bill would win easy approval, despite opposition from conservative Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.).
"If for some reason [the bill] was held up before they were out of session it would be a tragedy, considering the consensus," said Fine.
Congressional aides said yesterday that many representatives supported changing the immigration laws covering diseases and ideological beliefs because the rules had become out-dated.
"The bill is a comprehensive rewrite of laws that have been on the books since the McCarthy era," said Peter Kovar, a legislative assistant to Frank. "This is the first thorough revamping of [immigration laws] since 1952."
Shattuck said that Harvard officials were also pleased that the proposed law would allow an additional 250,000 people with technical skills into the country each year for three years starting in 1992.
"For our purposes, it would include a whole range of students and faculty," he said.