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Brazilian Coming to US for AIDS Treatment Deported at Airport

Last summer, North American Airlines employee and ESL teacher Apolo Marcos headed to the United States for a quick leisurely visit to the U.S., where he would see some friends in New York City. He had a valid 10-year tourist visa.

Upon disembarking at Atlanta International Airport (where officers are reportedly the most abusive in the country), a customs officer requested to look inside Mr. Marcos’ baggage – he believes, due to his middle-eastern looks – where they spotted the various medications he had brought in because of his HIV+ condition.

When asked about the contents of his bag, he confirmed his health condition. What followed was a twelve-hour ordeal in which he was denied his own medication, food and rest, which ultimately ended with him being sent back to his port of origin.

"I felt like dying," he told a Brazilian daily. "And I went through all this trouble because I was honest."

To add insult to injury, officials defaced his passport, effectively canceling any possibility for his entry in the U.S., where he would participate in an experimental trial of an anti-HIV drug that would have been his "last resource" for treatment, since he has become resistant to other treatments.

The U.S. Customs officials couldn’t be reached to comment on this article. Reporters from Brazil’s Folha de S. Paulo, who broke this story in Brazil, had the same results when requesting response from officials.

Mr. Marcos’ denial to enter the U.S. happened because this country is among  a handful of nations (among them Saudi Arabia) who ignore United Nations recommendations and deny even temporary entry to HIV+ individuals because they might become  a "health hazard" while in the country.

During the time he was detained in Atlanta, he was not allowed to get any food and was also denied use of his own medication – an attitude that, according to doctors, can cause severe risk to a patient. When he tried to lie down to rest, he was warned that the holding area "was not a hotel". There was only one toilet facility in the area, which was reportedly in poor condition.

The Brazilian government has not issued any official comment on the issue, since the incident happened within the borders of a sovereign nation which can uphold certain decisions regardless of what the U.N. might say.

I am sure that other countries have the same kind of precautions in effect," said Immigration Services spokesman Bill Stresser to the Folha. In the rare cases in which an infected individual is allowed in, the visa is issued with a special annotation. "These are contagious patients," he told the Brazilian daily.

"I have heard of several other cases similar to mine, such as this of an Uruguayan artist who used to perform regularly in Miami", said Mr. Marcos in an interview to The Brasilians. "I guess most would hide their condition out of fear or shame."

Shortly after the incident, an AIDS awareness organization in São Paulo led a rally to the doors of the U.S. Consulate in São Paulo to protest against the current policy, which many believe to be discriminatory and pointless.

Mr. Marcos now seeks legal help in the U.S. in order to have the decision revoked. He also seeks compensation to the humiliation he went through during the endless hours he was detained in Atlanta.

"If I can get a lawsuit filed in the U.S.," Marcos told us, "I hope the U.S. government declares throughout the media that HIV+ visitors are, in fact, not welcome in the country."

He feels that the treatment he has received is at least ironic, since the first reported AIDS cases came from  the U.S. in the early 80s.

There might be little that he can accomplish with a lawsuit, though. According to The Foreign Relations office in Brazil, "there isn’t much that can be done to help him", as reported by Folha.

"The Brazilian Consulate in Miami Brazilian was informed", according to the report, "that since he is considered a ‘health threat’, he would need to qualify for a special permit, which is only given to special cases, such as visits to family members – which is not his case."

The case of Apolo Marcos is one of many that show the ugly face of the Department of Homeland Security. Instead of looking for real threats, they deny visas to people who pose no risk to the country under the clout of  "protecting the nation."

As Rolling Stone Magazine reported in a recent issue, several musicians have had a hard time getting permits to perform here for the most absurd reasons, which has prompted them to simply forgo touring here and heading to Japan or Europe, where they will not be hassled unnecessarily – which becomes a huge loss for music fans, who will not get to see these tours.

Central Park Summerstage fans will remember that alt-rock Nação Zumbi could not appear because some band members had their entries denied.

Labels, of course, have a lot to lose, since CD and DVD sales hugely depend on live performances to promote their artists. The same goes with  foreign tourists who come from nations that require a visa to enter this country. Who needs to have their entire life scrutinized four a lousy two-week stay?

Supporters of the government’s policies might point to recent events in London and Madrid as an excuse to justify these measures – also, some might say that we are also thwarting the proliferation of illegal immigration with stricter, harsher regulations.

We do need to have some common sense here. Not every HIV+ visitor will go bare-backing in the streets of major U.S. cities, and touring musicians should not be considered a threat to the nation. And no, not every Brazilian visitor will be considering to take up residence in Newark’s Ironbound Section.

The only thing that we gain through those measures is to increase the international alienation that has, year after year, grown since the Bush administration took office. Instead of gaining respect for our anti-terrorist measures (which, we must admit, have been somewhat effective), all we get is scorn and indifference.  And don’t even get me started on the lost revenue taken by the tourist industry.

Ernest Barteldes is an ESL and Portuguese teacher. In addition to that, he is a freelance writer whose work has been published by The Greenwich Village Gazette, The Staten Island Advance, The Staten Island Register, The SI Muse, Brazzil magazine, The Villager, GLSSite, Entertainment Today and other publications. He lives in Staten Island, NY. He can be reached at ebarteldes@yahoo.com.

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  • Show Comments (6)

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  • Guest

    Response to Sr. Barteldes
    I am quite sure that BOM FIM did not mean that Sr. Barteldes abused the visa rules. The question was if Sr. Apolo Marcos did that trying to enter USA with “normal” visa while he must have known the rules.
    This was “taking a chance” that did not work out. So again, don’t blame the custom officer!

    “Ultimately that’s what this story is all about anyway.”

    You are right, Bom Fim. It’s difficult for USA and Brazil to build strong
    relations when both media and people in geral in Brazil only see the negative side of the USA. As most people here do not read daily newspapers I guess they get the hate propaganda from TV news. Sometimes one can SEE the ironic smiles in reporters faces when they report some bad accident in the USA.
    Floripa

  • Guest

    in response to comments
    Me abusing a visa? Hardly. I am an American citizen with dual citizenship(as a Brazilian). I don’t need to worry about any “visa privileges”. I am, however, disgusted by this country’s strange policies…

  • Guest

    Still…
    While the above poster is quite correct about a great many things, still there is the matter of human decency. Australia and Great Britain both have similar policies regarding entry of AIDS or HIV carriers as well as a great majority of other nations – this is true. I hate to hear that anyone was denied thier medicine, especially a Brazilian going into the US. Brazil and the US have worked very hard to build strong relations here in the west and incidents like this only give the media and communist more ammo to sell thier product. Ultimately that’s what this story is all about anyway. Still, I’m glad to hear that we still have free press here in Brazil that could report such things. Maybe this will stop people like Sr. Barteldes from abusing the priviliges of thier VISA’s and perhaps it will stop abuses of visiting foriegners in the Atlanta terminal. We are all free to be civil and civility is what makes us free in any circumstances.

    Bom Fim

  • Guest

    Brazilian Coming to US for AIDS Treatmen
    Yet another article filled up with USA hate and errors!
    If you don’t like their system, don’t go there. It is as simple as that!

    Why does USA require visa for Brazilian citizens? Also simple to
    answer. The USA have to, from time to time, rent whole airplanes
    to deport Brazilians who stays illegally in the country.
    Mexico is also requiring visa for Brazilians. Europe will be the next.

    When one seek visa one have to fill a form declaring many different
    things. Health statement is one, and people with aids, or other contagious
    diseases, can’t go to the USA on “normal” visa.
    Filling the visa form not telling the truth will result in cancelled visa.
    Then it does not help “being honest” to the custom officer.
    He is only doing his job, namely the very tough job, trying to protect
    American citizens.

    As the article says, visa IS granted for people with aids, if they
    declare it when searching for visa, and have the legitimate reasons.
    I am sure that if a patient would participate in an official experimental
    trial of an anti-HIV drug he would get the special visa. But coming to the
    immigration trying to pass with normal visa will of course not work
    if the custom officer is doing his job. So why did you not make all
    correct at the USA embassy in Brazil?

    Where the first aids case appeared has nothing to do with this.
    How can you blame USA for your aids?
    As for what I know, I think aids originally came from Africa.
    And it’s a lot more countries than “a handful” who reject people with
    aids. What has Saudi Arabia to do with this????

    Personally I am convinced that if it was not for the USA policy during
    the last decades of 1900, we would all by now be in the Soviet block under
    total communist terror. We in the western world has lot to thank USA
    for. Not only the fact that USA is the only real power who has the courage
    to fight terrorism.

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