‘His Life Would Be in Jeopardy': Supporters Rally to Stop Deportation of Kurdish Immigrant

Once again, Ibrahim Parlak and his supporters, say they are literally fighting for his life.

Parlak is the Kurdish immigrant who migrated to the Chicago area in 1991, starting a restaurant which soon became a favorite dining spot in Harbert, MIchigan.

He became a favorite too. The quiet man who said he had to flee violence and oppression in his native Turkey, was quickly embraced by the summertime crowds on the Michigan shore, as well as permanent residents of the sleepy communities along the Red Arrow Highway.

Parlak admitted a messy past, where as part of the Kurdish minority, he was accused by Turkish authorities in connection with a 1987 border skirmish where two soldiers were killed. He admitted he had been in the area, but denied involvement.

And the United States government believed him, granting Parlak asylum in 1992, in a letter where they stated, "It has been determined you have established a well founded fear of persecution upon return to your homeland."

For twelve years, Parlak thrived, raising a daughter and becoming what his community called a model citizen. Then in 2004, at the height of post 9/11 fright, the bottom fell out, when he was arrested by Immigration authorities, accused of lying on a green card application about his Turkish past.

"I didn't do anything wrong," he told NBC 5 in a jailhouse interview in August of 2004. "I don't know why I am here."

Parlak said his attorney had checked two boxes wrong on a form--that what the Department of Homeland Security called deception, was a simple clerical error.

But even now, Parlak speaks of his love of America, and his belief that federal authorities will eventually stop their pursuit.

"Yes, I got treated unfairly by some government office," he said Wednesday. "That just not what America is about."

Parlak's many supporters, Democrats and Republicans alike, have rallied around him. Congressmen and a Senator floated private bills to keep him in the U.S. For eleven years he managed to stave off removal.

But now Parlak's fight has resumed with new fury. Just before Christmas, immigration authorities came calling again. Turkey had agreed to take him. And the U.S. delivered a simple message: we're sending you back.

"I'm in a ground hog movie," Parlak said Wednesday. "You know, you wake up every morning, and it just starts all over and over and over."

At a packed gathering at Parlak's Cafe Gulistan, Republican Congressman Fred Upton outlined a new effort to request recognition that Parlak would face torture if he was returned to his native Turkey. He said he had been joined in that effort by Democrat Jan Schakowsky of Chicago.

"It's just stunning to me that they would waste so much time, going after a respectable citizen," Upton said. "Why are we spending money and everything else, going after an innocent man who wants to live in this country and raise his family--just crazy!"

Parlak's attorney Robert Carpenter of Chicago says the current government action against his client has a deadline of March 22, barring success with Upton's effort.

"I believe his life would be in jeopardy," Carpenter told NBC5. "The government could then remove him to Turkey where he would likely be tortured or killed."

The Department of Homeland Security's Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement offered little comment on Parlak's case.

"ICE is presently conducting a review of Mr. Parlak's case," the agency said in a statement. "Therefore, his removal is not imminent. Mr. Parlak is, however, subject to periodic reporting requirements."

Observers agree that over the last eleven years, the tremendous bipartisan support of community members and lawmakers has probably spelled the difference in keeping Parlak in America, during a fight which has spanned two White House administrations. Over 30,000 people have signed an online petition.

"It's insanity, gone crazy," says friend Martin Dzuris, a conservative Republican who has supported Parlak from the beginning. "He is an American. He is representative of our values."

Upton agreed, telling the Secretary of Homeland Security in a letter, that Parlak "has embodied the epitome of what all immigrants who come to our nation aspire to achieve."

"We want to build a strong, proud country," said Upton. "He believes in the American dream. He's done it. And to send him back to face torture, maybe death, shouldn't happen."

For his part, Parlak says he still sees past the current dispute, when he can finally seek the U.S. citizenship which has always been his dream.

"Of course," he said. "That will be the day to celebrate!"

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