WASHINGTON — Immigrants seeking to become legal U.S. residents will be rejected if they test positive for exposure to the AIDS virus in a required government medical examination, Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III said Monday in announcing AIDS policy for immigrants, prisoners and law enforcement personnel.
Although such immigrants could not be deported solely on the basis of positive test results, the lack of legal status could block them from finding work or seeking social services, and "they would be well advised to leave," Justice Department spokesman Patrick S. Korten said.
Meese, ranking AIDS as "one of the most serious public health issues faced by our nation," said: "It is imperative that the federal government do everything it can to combat this rapidly growing health problem."
In dealing with the nation's 43,200 federal prisoners, he said, the current policy of testing only on the recommendation of a prison's medical staff will be expanded to test all inmates entering and leaving prison, with those departing to be examined 30 days before discharge. About 15,000 to 20,000 federal prisoners are released annually.
The test determines whether an individual has been exposed to the virus that causes AIDS, not whether he or she will contract the disease. However, an individual who tests positive is presumed to be infectious to others.
Inmates who test positive for the virus will be "informed and counseled from both a medical and a health education perspective," Meese said. Positive test results of those about to leave prison will be relayed to the chief federal probation officer in the district where the former prisoner is to reside.
Meese said that such information would be held in confidence by the probation officer. But the officer could use it, for example, in deciding that a former prisoner with the AIDS virus should not accept employment as a counselor in a day-care center, Meese said.
Prisoners found to be clinically infected with the disease "will receive appropriate medical care," which Meese said he is certain would continue on an outpatient basis after the prisoner is released. From a "legal standpoint," he said, a prisoner could not be held beyond his term because he tested positive or was found to be clinically infected.
Proposed Rules Issued
Meese noted that President Reagan had said last month that the AIDS virus would be added to the list of dangerous contagious diseases that prevent infected immigrants from entering the United States as permanent residents. In addition, Meese said, the Health and Human Services Department had issued proposed rules Monday to accomplish this.
"A testing program of all aliens must be put in place to assist in detecting the presence of the virus," Meese said. He said he had directed the Immigration and Naturalization Service to develop the program for all immigrants, refugees and applicants for legal resident status.
The attorney general said the goal was to begin testing for AIDS as soon as the HHS regulations, which provide for a 60-day public comment period, become final.
For immigrants, the testing will occur at their place of departure, wherever possible, Meese said, although the proposed regulations provided flatly that the testing will be conducted in the country of origin. All who test positive will be denied entry, Meese said.
For those aliens seeking legal status under the new immigration law who have already undergone a medical examination, Meese said, the immigration service expects to detect any with the AIDS virus during a second medical examination when they move from temporary to permanent resident status.
Citing the special problems law enforcement officials encounter in dealing with individuals who have AIDS or carry the virus, Meese directed the National Institute of Justice, the department's research arm, to establish a central AIDS clearinghouse for the officials.
The facility will include an AIDS hot line, technical assistance and training, data collection and the distribution of AIDS information to criminal justice personnel, the attorney general said.