Restaurant owner gets 90-day reprieve from deportation

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

A southwest Michigan man has a few more months to pursue legal options to avoid deportation to his native Turkey after narrowly averting a Thursday deadline for potential removal by immigration officials.

The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday granted Ibrahim Parlak a 90-day extension, giving his lawyers time to argue for reopening his application for deferral of removal under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, officials said.

For 24 years, Parlak has lived in Michigan, where he owns the popular Gulistan Cafe in Harbert near the shore of Lake Michigan. A Kurd, Parlak was granted asylum by the U.S. 20 years ago on that basis that Turkish officials persecuted him because of his role in the Kurdish freedom movement.

But Parlak has failed to gain citizenship because U.S. officials say he was part of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which the State Department reclassified as a terrorist group in 1997 — years after Parlak escaped Turkey.

For nearly a decade, efforts to deport Parlak had been blocked in Congress by private bills introduced by Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, and the now-retired Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, to grant Parlak permanent legal residency.

While Upton reintroduced the bill in the current legislative session, neither Sens. Debbie Stabenow nor Gary Peters has taken up Parlak’s cause.

“No one in the Senate has stepped up to sponsor similar legislation, despite our pleas,” Upton said in a statement this week.

“We will continue our diligent pursuit of a permanent solution that will prevent Ibrahim from being religiously persecuted and keep him where he rightfully belongs: his home in southwest Michigan.”

A spokeswoman for Peters, who replaced Levin in the Senate, said he does not introduce private immigration bills. Stabenow’s office was unavailable for comment.

Martin Dzuris, a Czech immigrant and longtime friend of Parlak’s, said Stabenow has never been responsive to Parlak’s supporters, and that Peters’ office cites his policy against private bills.

“That is very disappointing that our two senators will not do this,” Dzuris said.

“Both are saying recently how refugees are good for Michigan, but here you have a resident for 24 years in Michigan — Ibrahim — who has never taken a public dime, opened a business, employs Americans, raised his daughter here. This is the guy who you won’t move a finger to help. It’s a hypocrisy on the biggest level.”

Prior to the agency issuing a 90-day extension, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Detroit said Wednesday the agency was conducting a review of Parlak’s case, and that his removal “is not imminent at this time.”

Parlak’s legal team, which includes John Smietanka, the former U.S. Attorney for Western Michigan, this week filed a motion with the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals seeking to reopen his application for relief under the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

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 and the Turkish government. Kurds, a minority ethnic and religious group, have historically been oppressed in Turkey.

In 2004, federal agents charged Parlak with lying on his green card application when he said that 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 the U.S. as a “model immigrant.”

Parlak and his supporters worry he would face persecution if he were forced to return to Turkey. Parlak has been told that the U.S. has secured travel documents for him to go to Turkey, but “Turkey is of course a country where he doesn’t want to go back to,” Dzuris said.

A new petition addressed to President Barack Obama, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Stabenow and Peters urges them to “stop the wasteful and unnecessary deportation of Ibrahim Parlak.” It has gathered nearly 6,700 signatures in recent days.

In a recent essay, Geoffrey Stone, a scholar at the University of Chicago Law School, called on Obama to pardon Parlak.

“In the name of decency and human rights, it is time to bring this absurd and, indeed, unjust campaign of persecution to an end,” Stone wrote. “Let this good and decent man who has lived a peaceful and lovely life in our nation for more than 20 years live, finally, in peace.”

Friends and family were gathering Wednesday night at Gulistan Cafe for a vigil in support of Parlak and to possibly say goodbye.

The 90-day extension is “good news temporarily because it gives us breathing room and time to work on keeping him permanently here,” Dzuris added.

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