For several decades, Kurdish immigrant Ibrahim Parlak has, by all accounts, peacefully operated a café in the small resort town of Harbert along Lake Michigan.
In 2004, with the war on terror fully underway in the years following the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government ordered Parlak deported.
He would be sent to Turkey because of a link to a group known as the PKK, which federal officials identified as a terrorist organization, though they made that designation many years after Parlak was associated with it.
The townspeople of Harbert started a defense fund for Parlak. Several members of Congress from Michigan began sponsoring bills to keep him in the U.S.
Parlak was granted the right to stay in Michigan in 2018 on grounds that he would be tortured or killed if returned to Turkey. He has remained a staunch critic of Turkey and its president, Receo Tayyip Erdogan.
But now U.S. immigration officials want Parlak’s case re-examined.
His attorney, Robert Carpenter, says the government’s reasons stem in part from that hearing in 2018.
“An immigration judge sitting in Detroit heard the case over the course of an afternoon and believed that Parlak had shown he was tortured before, and would be most likely tortured again, at the hands of the Turkish authorities. The U.S. government didn’t like that result,” Carpenter says. “So they appealed the results to the Board of Immigration Appeals. Now, four years later, we just received a Remand Order, which means the board is sending it back to the immigration judge, for two reasons.
“The first is their own record is deficient. The transcriber who listened to the audio from the hearing and produced the transcript didn’t understand what Mr. Parlak said on close to 400 occasions. But we don’t believe that that means the case ought to be sent back. So in response to that, we have filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. We’ve also filed a motion to reconsider with the Board of Immigration Appeals, which is the arm of the Department of Justice that is purporting to send the case back to the immigration judge, in order to have them apply the law correctly. Because we don’t believe they did.”
Quinn Klinefelter, WDET News: They said they couldn’t understand what Parlak said. But that was not what the judge said during the time that he actually was testifying.
That’s correct. Over the course of the four hour–plus hearing, the judge didn’t have any issues understanding Mr. Parlak or anybody else in the courtroom. So there was no issue whatsoever communicating within the courtroom. This is purely a function of a transcriber, who was a contractor for the Department of Justice, not understanding Ibrahim‘s testimony. And it’s not a reason to send the case back.
You said there was another issue beyond the transcription, that the judge had already ruled that Parlak could face torture or death if he’s returned to Turkey. But the government says that’s not a consideration because that’s not the conditions in Turkey at the moment.
The government made that argument. And it’s an argument without any teeth whatsoever. Things in Turkey have gotten worse, not better. The country condition evidence that exists now that the administrative court should take notice of all supports the idea that the persecution of the Kurds and the persecution of those that Turkey deems to be affiliated with the PKK has increased, not decreased.
All these court actions happened roughly four years ago.
It’s not completely unusual for the Board of Immigration Appeals to take a number of years to issue a decision. What’s disappointing in this case is that the decision wasn’t a decision. There was a request to have a new hearing at the lower level when Ibrahim’s already prevailed at the lower level. So why in the world would we ever ask to go back and have a new trial? We wouldn’t. And he didn’t. We’ve asked the government this case to end it formally through what is called the prosecutorial discretion request. And the answer was, I believe, a one sentence answer that they wouldn’t be applying prosecutorial discretion to end this case. The reasons for that are ones that I can’t speak for. But certainly the Parlak original 6th Circuit decision on his removal case back in 2009 is a historical case. It’s used widely by the government in other cases that involve actual terrorists.
And so that could be a reason. But there’s a path to reopening Parlak’s case without losing that precedent and without losing that tool in their litigation box. And I’ve outlined how we could do that. The decision of Parlak v. Holder from 2009 is going to be intact, regardless of if they let this case go. That law has been decided. If they agreed to finally give him a reprieve and finally let him get his green card through his adult U.S. citizen daughter, they would still have that precedent, it would go nowhere. So there is a route to solving this really unjust situation without compromising the government’s toolbox for sure. But they expressed no interest in doing that.
That precedent basically says that if you find somebody was in a terrorist group that you didn’t initially identify as a terrorism group, but now you find that they are, you’re still able to take action against them even years afterwards?
That’s correct. It could be 50 years afterwards, there’s no temporal limit on how retroactive that term can be. And in this case, it was years afterwards that the PKK was categorized as a terrorist organization. So if you had contact with that organization 50 years ago, you’d still be a terrorist in their eyes. And that’s absurd. The government of Turkey is holding up the ascension of Sweden to NATO under the rubric of terrorists who are affiliated with the PKK in some instances. So does that have any role in this case not being decided? I certainly can’t say it does, but it makes me wonder.
And the PKK is the group that Parlak had been affiliated with and that they later identified as a terrorist group.
The government might tell you that but it would be incorrect. He was never affiliated with the PKK directly. And that was never found to be so by any court. He was affiliated with the ERNK, which was an outreach group with a very loose affiliation with the PKK. So much so that Parlak had no idea whether or not his bake sales in Germany produced money that ever went to the PKK.
But the Parlak v. Holder decision really cast a wide net for the definition of a terrorist. And Parlak doesn’t meet it by any normal use of the term. You’d never find a better next door neighbor. And that’s not just me talking. Judge Avern Cohn in U.S. District Court found that Parlak was no danger to the community whatsoever, that he was actually a significant asset to the community when he ordered his release in 2005. And there’s never been a judge, federal, immigration or anywhere else who would rebut that or say that it’s not true. He’s a great guy.
Yet Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement continues pursuing this case. Is the push for this coming from a particular area or particular region or agency?
Parlak’s enjoyed the strong support of many congressional partners over the years, senators and members of Congress, more than 10 of them. And at some point it was communicated to us that ICE wouldn’t drop the matter because Detroit ICE wouldn’t agree to do so. I can’t verify the truth of that statement. I can only tell you that’s what we were told. Which begs the question, who runs the agency, Detroit or Washington?
When contacted for this story, a spokesperson for Detroit ICE told WDET that the agency does not comment on ongoing or pending litigation.