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S.F. protest planned over INS' detaining of Dutch man with AIDS


A Dutch man with AIDS remained jailed in Minnesota under a federal immigration law that has been cited to bar up to 15 travelers infected with AIDS virus from entering the United States in the last 16 months.

Hans Paul Verhoef, 31, of Rotterdam has become a symbol for critics of an immigration law that lists infection with AIDS virus as one of eight "dangerous and contagious" diseases that can keep tourists and immigrants from crossing U.S. borders.

"It is plain dumb," said San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos.

Verhoef's case has received special attention in the Bay Area because Verhoef, an AIDS prevention worker, was on his way to San Francisco for the 11th National Lesbian and Gay Health Conference that opened yesterday in the city. People affiliated with the conference plan to demonstrate on Verhoef's behalf today.


San Francisco also will host the premier AIDS gathering next year - the international conference of 1990 - and its organizers are worried the Verhoef case will set a dangerous precedent that will keep people with AIDS from attending the international conference.

"Of course, it would be deeply embarrassing to us if people attending our conference would be humiliated in this same manner," said Dr. David Werdegar, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health and a member of the planning committee for the 1990 conference.

San Francisco Health Commissioner James Foster said it is "absurd" to think San Francisco or any city in the United States could host the international conference as long as people with AIDS from other countries cannot attend.

"I will urge the international committee to seek another venue outside the United States if this is not resolved," Foster said.

The immigration law took effect in December 1987 after Congress passed an amendment pushed by Senator Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina. The Helms amendment added the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS to the health conditions that can keep people from entering the United States.

Although the law requires immigrants applying for residency to undergo medical tests for the diseases, enforcement of the "no-disease" requirement for tourists is more hit-and-miss.

"We don't ask people if they've got AIDS as they walk through the line. It's not something you can tell by looking into someone's eyes," said Richard Norton, associate administrator of the Immigration and Naturalization's examinations branch in Washington, D.C.

"But if we have evidence, we must act on it," said Norton. "The law is even-handedly applied when we have reason to think someone is infected."

In Verhoef's case, the evidence was the fact that his baggage contained AZT, the drug used to treat people infected with HIV. When questioned, he told U.S. Customs personnel he had been infected with the virus.


Norton said there have been "only a handful" of cases in which HIV infection resulted in someone being detained at the border. Another INS official estimated that 10 to 15 people may have been barred from entry in the 16 months that the law has been in force.

"We are locked into a certain course of action if we find someone has one of the contagious diseases on the list," said Norton. "We don't have discretion in the matter."

Verhoef has two chances to be allowed into the United States, either through a waiver to be considered by an INS official in St. Paul or through a ruling by an immigration judge.

If Verhoef loses on both fronts, he will face deportation. An immigration judge could also allow him to withdraw his request and voluntarily return home.



Copyright © 1989 -San Francisco Chronicle, Publisher. All rights reserved to San Francisco Chronicle Press. Reproduced with permission. Reproduction of this article (other than one copy for personal reference) must be cleared through the San Francisco Chronicle, Permissions Desk, 901 Mission Street, San Franciso, CA 94103. You may also send a fax to (415) 495-3843, or send an email to San Francisco Chronicle.

Information in this article was accurate in April 6, 1989. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.