Harbert restaurateur Ibrahim Parlak wary of latest Homeland Security maneuvers

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

HARBERT — A Harbert restaurant owner fears he is once more at risk of being deported.

Ibrahim Parlak said he was ordered by the Department of Homeland Security to appear at the DHS office in Detroit today. At his annual visit in September, Parlak was accused of violating his probation by not attempting to pursue travel documents from other countries. He was then instructed by a DHS officer to return to the Detroit office on Nov. 3.

It seems unusual, as the 53-year-old has only been required to appear there once a year for the last decade.

“I was pulled in for intradition and questioned about my updated passport,” Parlak said of his September occurrence. “I tried to explain that I applied to several countries, including Turkey. I’m either getting denied or I get no response. Those applications were forwarded to DHS at the time I applied. When (the officer) asked me what kind of effort I was making, he didn’t even allow me to answer. He asked me to show him.

“I didn’t have the forms with me because in the 10 years I’ve been coming there, they never asked me for them.”

However, Parlak said he received a call from another DHS officer last week who assured him he would not have to appear. Parlak asked for that to be put in writing, but it never was.

On Monday afternoon, Parlak’s attorney was contacted by the same DHS officer and told the same thing – just not in writing.

While most would be reassured by the second call, Parlak was not.

Parlak is uneasy because a similar situation occurred to his brother, who was in the U.S. attending school on a student visa. Parlak said DHS called his brother for a meeting in Detroit and they ended up deporting him without notifying his family.

“If I don’t go, there might be a mark on my report saying I didn’t go,” Parlak said. “This happened to my brother. They told him nothing will happen and that ‘we just want to have a meeting.’ They handcuffed him and he called me when he was on the airplane. We’re still debating if we should go tomorrow, just in case.”

Khaalid Walls, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Detroit, said he could not confirm whether Parlak was required to be in Detroit today, citing Customs’ privacy policy.

Parlak, owner of Cafe Gulistan in Harbert, fears DHS may be trying to use a window of opportunity to deport him due to the absence of a private bill in the U.S. Senate.

For a decade, former Sen. Carl Levin had been introducing a private bill every session of Congress. Having the bill introduced essentially prevents deportation because once they are filed with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the bills are considered pending legislation.

However, there has been no private bill on Parlak’s behalf in the U.S. Senate since Levin retired. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters have not introduced such a bill, leaving Parlak unprotected from deportation.

“When they told me I had to come back in, my reading on that was because we don’t have Levin’s bill, they must have thought I’m vulnerable now, so now’s the time to do something,” Parlak said. “So far our senators have not come around. That was disappointing on our side.”

Parlak was born in southern Turkey and came to the U.S. in 1991. In his asylum application, he disclosed that while associated with a Turkish separatist organization in the late 1980s – called the Kurdistan Workers Party (known as the PKK) – he had been involved in an armed skirmish at the Turkish border and had been imprisoned in Turkey.

In 1992, the Immigration and Naturalization Service determined Parlak had a credible fear of returning to Turkey, and granted him asylum. DHS later stepped in and said Parlak did not disclose he was arrested in another country in his application for permanent U.S. residency. They labeled him a potential terrorist and began efforts to deport him, setting off a more than decade-long public drama over his plight.

Through the years, Parlak’s lawyers have insisted that his 1991 application for asylum set forth in great detail his past association with the PKK and maintain he has been a model immigrant and business owner for years.

Staying local

Parlak said he does not wish to remember the years of suffering that involved beatings from members of “right wing groups.”

But every time something like this occurs and his residence in the U.S. is threatened, those memories come flooding back.

Longtime Parlak supporter Martin Dzuris said because of his friend’s probation, Parlak is supposed to try and get a passport from another country.

It has proven difficult for Parlak because of his past.

“It’s a Catch-22. The U.S. has put it out there that he is a terrorist, but no one wants someone labeled that in their country,” Dzuris said. “Turkey revoked his citizenship a long time ago because he didn’t serve in their military by a certain age. He’s been put in a tough spot.”

Parlak said it has been painful for his family. He said he’s been dealing with this citizenship issue since his daughter, Livia, was 6 years old.

“It’s a lot more than stress for me,” he said. “My daughter’s 18 now and she needs to focus on college. She doesn’t need to worry about whether her dad will be here tomorrow.”

As for why DHS officers called him a month later to assure him the meeting would not take place, Parlak credited his supporters with applying pressure to government officials.

“I’m so thankful and grateful to this community I am a part of,” he said. “I’m fortunate for what I have here. I still haven’t given up on the American dream. I’ll do whatever it takes.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 3, 2015)

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