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Washington — U.S. Reps. Fred Upton of Michigan and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois are urging the Department of Homeland Security and immigration officials to reopen Michigan resident Ibrahim Parlak’s case and allow him to avoid deportation.

For years, Parlak has pursued legal options to avoid deportation to his native Turkey. Late last month, he got a reprieve from the Homeland Security department through March 22 to allow his attorneys time to argue for reopening his application for deferral of removal under United Nations torture protections.

Last week, Upton, a southwest Michigan Republican, and Schakowsky, a Democrat, wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Catherine Pincheck, chief counsel for U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement, asking them not to oppose Parlak’s motion before the Immigration Review Board.

“While we understand the responsibility you have to enforce the law, we believe that efforts to remove him are based on highly contested evidence,” the members wrote.

“The passage of time notwithstanding, the changes in the Middle East, and specifically the evolving conflict between the Turkish government and the Kurdish people, warrant a fresh perspective on Mr. Parlak’s case, and the certain persecution he would face if he were returned to Turkey today.”

Immigration Customs Enforcement officials in Detroit declined to comment this week on the letter. The agency is conducting a review of Parlak’s case and say his removal is “not imminent.”

Parlak, who has lived in Michigan since 1994, owns the popular Gulistan Cafe in Harbert near the shore of Lake Michigan. A Kurd, Parlak was granted asylum by the United States 20 years ago on the 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 now say he was part of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which the State Department reclassified as a terrorist group in 1997 – after Parlak escaped Turkey.

Attempts to deport Parlak were blocked in Congress for nearly a decade by private bills introduced by Upton, R-St. Joseph, and the now-retired Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, to grant Parlak permanent legal residency.

Upton reintroduced a private bill for Parlak in the current legislative session, but U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow nor Gary Peters have not done so in the Senate. The senators say it’s their policy not to introduce private bills.

“Neither Sen. Peters nor I do private bills, only because we are asked by hundreds of people a year. They’re all kinds of very heart-wrenching situations,” Stabenow told The Detroit News.

“It would involve a full-time legal team of people to determine which situation was accurate and not. Basically, it’s impossible to make those determinations in a way that is accurate.”

Stabenow said she’s still been advocating for Parlak and supports his applying for relief based on the Convention Against Torture.

“I’m willing to do anything I can to support him,” she said. “I get a lot of people who come to me who don’t have as many advocates but who have equally compelling stories. What that says to me, is we need immigration reform.”

Parlak’s original request for relief under the U.N. torture protections was denied in 2005 because Turkey’s treatment of the Kurdish people was improving at the time, and there was no indication that Turkey desired Parlek’s return.

That’s no longer the case, Upton and Schakowky note in their letter to DHS. Relations between Turkey and the Kurds are increasingly hostile, and Turkey has reversed its position on permitting Parlak back into the country.

“Our hope for additional review of Mr. Parlak’s (Convention Against Torture) claim is further underscored by direct threats recently made in the Turkish press, and to him personally from individuals who are privy to very private details of the modes of torture he was subject to before escaping to the United States,” Upton and Schakowsky wrote.

“The only allowable cause to reopen a case such as this is a change in country condition, of which Turkey is undeniably experiencing.”

mburke@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8736

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