Restaurant owner Ibrahim Parlak’s tenuous hold on residency took a turn for the worse this week, when the Turkish Consul General in Chicago wrote a Michigan Congressman, urging him to reconsider his support.
Parlak’s attorney called that effort “an inexcusable tirade”, and repeated the restauranteur’s longstanding contention that he would suffer torture, even death, if he was returned to his homeland.
Parlak came to the Chicago area 25 years ago, settling in Harbert, Michigan where his Café Gulistan became a favorite destination for the vacation crowds on the Michigan shore. After initially being granted political asylum in 1992, the government suddenly branded Parlak as a security risk in 2004, contending that in his green card application he had been less than truthful about involvement in a 1987 border skirmish in Turkey where two soldiers were killed.
Parlak never denied pro-Kurdish activities and even admitted being in the area, but insisted he played no role in the assault. Indeed, when he was granted asylum, the U.S. government not only said they believed his story, they acknowledged that he faced the potential of great harm if he was returned to Turkey.
“This man is not a terrorist,” says Republican Congressman Fred Upton of Michigan, one of Parlak’s most vocal supporters. “To send him back to face torture, even death? Shouldn’t happen!”
But this week, the Turkish Consul General, Umut Acar wrote Upton a letter, citing what he called “misleading news” about Parlak, and efforts to “legitimize his illegal stay in the U.S.”
“The facts of Parlak’s crime are gruesome and alarming,” Acar wrote, “particularly given that he has managed to evade the U.S. authorities, open and operate a restaurant in Michigan, and lead a secret life for so long.”
The consul declared that Parlak had been arrested after the border assault, but escaped prison after serving only 16 months.
But Parlak’s lawyer, Robert Carpenter, says that flies in the face of Turkey’s own documents, which indicate he was lawfully released from prison, and did not escape.
“We feel the need to respond to what we believe is an inexcusable tirade of fictional, defamatory statements,” Carpenter said in his own letter to Upton. “The government of Turkey tries to categorize Mr. Parlak’s stay in the United States as illegal. This is simply false. He has been in the U.S. legally at every moment after he applied for asylum in 1991.”
Carpenter notes that Parlak presented evidence of repeated torture, which he said even a U.S. Federal Judge had recognized.
“Acar’s letter reeks of desperation,” he said. “The letter leaves no doubt…that the Turkish government wants Mr. Parlak returned, and will imprison him, where he will be tortured and abused again.”
During a brief conversation with NBC5, Acar confirmed he had written Upton, and urged the American media to see the case in a different light.
“This man is a convicted murderer,” he said.
For his part, Parlak has always denied harming anyone during the border dispute, and said in an interview at his restaurant last month, that the fear of reasonable harm the United States recognized when he immigrated a quarter century ago, would still exist if he was returned today.
“We’re talking about a country—it has declared war against its own population,” he said. “They are trying to throw me in a fire.”
He said his goal continues to be full citizenship, and still hopes that is possible after the current dispute is resolved.
“What American’s going to be benefit from letting my daughter grow up without a father?” he asked. “Yes, I get treated unfairly by some government office, but that’s just not what America is all about.”
For years, Parlak was protected through private legislation sponsored by Michigan Senator Carl Levin. But after Levin’s retirement, those bills lapsed.
Upton has asked Rep. Trey Gowdy, the Republican chairman of the Subcommittee on immigration and Border Security to advance a similar bill in the current congress, and he has written the Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, asking that he not oppose efforts to reopen the Parlak case.
“He pays his taxes. He’s an outstanding citizen,” Upton said. “These are the type of people we want to come to America.”