SW Michigan restauranteur gets deportation reprieve

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A Kurdish southwest Michigan man has won a federal immigration appeal that allows him to avoid deportation to his native Turkey after a lengthy court battle.

The United States Board of Immigration approved a motion to reopen a 2004 case against Ibrahim Parlak, 54, that ordered his removal from the United States. The decision means Parlak, who says he fled Turkey due to religious persecution, will not be deported until the legal proceedings are concluded.

Parlak requested the re-examination under the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Since 1991, he has lived in Michigan, where he owns the popular Gulistan Cafe in Harbert near the shore of Lake Michigan.

Parlak told The Detroit News on Wednesday that he is glad the Board of Immigration “recognized the conditions at home and what people are going through there every day.

“I’m happy I don’t have to get thrown back into what I endured,” he said.

Parlak was at risk of being deported at the end of 2015, but the U.S. Department of Homeland Security granted him a temporary reprieve, giving his lawyers more time to argue for reopening his application for deferral of removal.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, who has filed legislation on behalf of Parlak to make him a permanent citizen, said the Board of Immigration’s decision “is a significant victory for our friend Ibrahim and yet another step in the right direction for his future.

“The dangers Ibrahim would face should he be deported to Turkey are unthinkable as the tensions between the Turkish government and the Kurdish community have grown increasingly worse,” Upton said in a statement. “It has been a full team effort, and we will continue working hard, on a bipartisan basis, to prevent Ibrahim’s unjust deportation from occurring.”

The U.S. government originally granted Parlak asylum 20 years ago on that basis that Turkish officials persecuted him because of his role in the Kurdish freedom movement.

Parlak has said he was jailed and tortured by Turkish authorities in 1988 for his alleged involvement in a 1987 border firefight between the PKK — the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party— and the Turkish government. Kurds, a minority ethnic and religious group, have historically been oppressed in Turkey.

He said Turkish officials began investigating him after he passed a U.S. citizenship test in 1998. In 2004, federal agents charged Parlak with lying on his green card application when he said he had never been arrested or provided support to a terrorist organization.

He spent 10 months in the Calhoun County Jail in 2004-05 until a federal judge freed him, saying Parlak posed no danger to the community and noting Parlak’s “exemplary life” in America as a “model immigrant.”

“The whole time I’ve been here since 1991, they don’t have a single claim against me saying I did anything wrong in the U.S.,” Parlak said.

A Change.org petition addressed to President Barack Obama, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, and Michigan U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters urges them to “stop the wasteful and unnecessary deportation of Ibrahim Parlak.” It has gathered 37,570 signatures.

“This man is a devoted father to his American daughter (my niece), a small business owner, job creator, taxpayer, and a pillar of his community,” the petition, created by Nicholas Gazzolo of Sag Harbor, N.Y., says.

“We appreciate that the task of protecting our country is monumental right now,” the petition continues. “But discernment is key at such times — our government must be able to distinguish between someone who poses a real threat to our security, and someone who is a genuine asset to our country.”

Parlak said he is grateful for the support he has received. “I”m fortunate, I’m lucky and I’m thankful,” he said.

klaing@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8735

Twitter: @Keith_Laing