By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
HARBERT — Ibrahim Parlak and U.S. Rep. Fred Upton sat alongside one another Wednesday at a table in the back of Cafe Gulistan, surrounded by several cameras and eager reporters.
As owner of the Harbert restaurant, Parlak opened the business to friends, supporters and media as Upton made an appearance to announce what is being done to prevent the native of Turkey from being deported.
Upton, R-St. Joseph, and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, are sending a two-page letter Friday to the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration Customs and Enforcement officials in support of the motion to reopen the case against Parlak.
The motion of support urges the Immigration Review Board to reopen Parlak’s case as he seeks relief under the Convention Against Torture – an international law that permits refugees from being returned under threat of torture or death. In the letter, the two House members asked for DHS officials to refrain from opposing the motion, so Parlak’s plea for asylum could be heard with new evidence of the rising threats to the Kurdish people in Turkey.
“This is another avenue to have the House Judiciary Committee formally request a report from DHS,” Upton said. “We’ll get a sense of where things are probably in the next few weeks. We’re going to stay on this until it is over.”
The letter pointed out what has changed in the 11 years since Parlak’s previous request was first considered.
Parlak’s original request for relief through CAT was denied in 2005 on the basis that Turkey’s treatment of the Kurdish people was improving as the nation pursued reforms to become a member of the European Union.
The board indicated Parlak, who had been involved with Kurdish separatist movements in Turkey, could not prove he would be harmed if he returned.
“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 prosecution he would face if he were returned today,” the letter reads.
Parlak’s attorney, Robert Carpenter, said the board can ask for an extension of time to respond to the motion to reopen Parlak’s case for CAT relief.
“They have to either respond or not oppose our motion,” Carpenter said. “We plan on supplementing the motion with additional materials this week with documents showing torture is likelier than not with his return to Turkey.”
Carpenter said these documents will include testimony from two experts on Turkish affairs – one of whom has done extensive work for the U.S. government.
Same stuff, different day
The last time Parlak made news was on Christmas Eve, when he received a 90-day extension on a deferral of deportation he was originally given by DHS in 2014.
With the amount of legislation that was being pushed through so close to Christmas, Upton was able to get the extension by appealing directly to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson. When asked by reporters Wednesday about how aware Johnson was of Parlak’s situation, Upton said sending a memo with the word “Parlak” on it was sufficient enough to have Johnson grant the three-month long extension.
Upton said the driving force behind Parlak’s deportation is coming from the DHS office in Detroit.
“When (Parlak) was required to report to the DHS every few months, we tried to get the reporting to not be in Detroit, which is three hours away, but in Chicago – an hour away,” Upton said. “Detroit’s office refused to allow that to happen. It’s the same office, same federal government. They deliberately tried to put additional hardships and hurdles in his path.
“It’s stunning to me,” Upton said, “that they would invest so much time going after a respected citizen than rather let him live here, pay his taxes and raise a family.”
Parlak has gained support in Southwest Michigan from Upton, who has introduced legislation to grant him permanent residency.
However, neither of Michigan’s current senators – Democrats Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters – have sponsored the private legislation Parlak needs to stay untouched from DHS.
“I’ve introduced private legislation over the years with Carl Levin, who is no longer in the Senate. It allowed (Parlak) to remain here as a legal resident while preventing ICE from sending him back,” Upton said. “I have talked to both our senators, and they are reluctant to induce any private legislation for anyone. They just don’t want to go there. We’ve explored getting another senator as well.”
Parlak thanked Upton afterward and said he felt more relieved knowing efforts were being made on his behalf – whether it was in Southwest Michigan or Washington D.C.
“Anything making us feel like we are going forward is good news, and we are thankful (Upton) was able to deliver this news,” Parlak said. “It feels good to have a longtime family friend and representative being with us, standing by us.”
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Jan. 21, 2016)