Saturday, October 27, 2007
Michigan restaurateur fights deportation
High-profile backers rally behind popular Kurdish cafe owner, called a terrorist by U.S.
HARBERT, Mich. -- The Department of Homeland Security calls Ibrahim Parlak a terrorist linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party and is trying to deport him to his native Turkey.
But to a tight-knit group of high-profile supporters across the political spectrum, Parlak is a benevolent community leader and popular restaurateur in this resort in southwest Michigan.
Whatever the specifics of his involvement with the Kurdish independence movement, they said, they see him as a symbol of the American dream. Martin Dzuris, a conservative talk show host who fled communism in Czechoslovakia, said he wondered about his longtime friend's past when the government raised its allegations
I thought maybe he didn't tell me everything," said Dzuris, who runs an import-export business in southwest Michigan and coordinates the "Ibrahim for Citizen" grass-roots campaign. "But then I read all the briefs, and I know what kind of person he is."
Dzuris said that even if Parlak, 45, had been involved in violent separatist activity, as the Turkish and U.S. governments allege, he would not hold it against Parlak.
"That would be like my grandfather shooting a few Nazis," Dzuris said.
Parlak has also gained public support from film critic Roger Ebert, a frequent patron of his restaurant; Chicago Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin, who called him a "gentle man" who makes "some great hummus," and novelist Andrew Greeley.
Sen. Carl M. Levin, D-Detroit, and Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, have introduced bills asking that Parlak be granted permanent residency.
And former U.S. Attorney John A. Smietanka and Anne L. Buckleitner, a former assistant general counsel for national security for the FBI, offered their legal services after hearing about his case.
Parlak gained asylum in the United States in 1992 after serving time in a Turkish prison on a conviction of "separatism," according to Smietanka. Documents from a Turkish military court also allege that he was a PKK member and was present during a border skirmish in which a guard was killed. Parlak maintains that he was involved only with the civil and cultural arm of the Kurdish independence movement.
In July 2004, Homeland Security moved to deport him and placed him in immigration detention, saying he did not mention his conviction in Turkey on his 1993 green-card application and 1998 naturalization application.
The government also alleges that he was a member of the PKK, which the U.S. designated a terrorist organization in 1997.
"We believe, based on his conviction in Turkey for participating in terrorist actions against the Republic of Turkey, that he has no legal right to remain in the U.S.," Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Tim Counts said.
Parlak was released from detention in June 2005 on the orders of a federal judge.