We turn now to a case of Michigan resident Ibrahim Parlak, who faces imminent deportation in an asylum case that stretches back more than 20 years. Parlak is a Kurdish man who came to the United States in 1990 fleeing persecution in his native country of Turkey, where he’d been arrested and tortured for his affiliations with the political arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Once Parlak reached the United States, he was granted political asylum. A year later, he was granted permanent residence. But all this changed in the years following 2001, when the FBI began to review old asylum files. In 2004, Parlak was arrested and threatened with deportation. But much to the surprise of the Department of Homeland Security, the community around him in Harbert, Michigan, rose to his defense. People built websites, organized letter-writing campaigns, held vigils and made so much noise that the agency released him. But now, his immigration case has suddenly come up again. The Department of Homeland Security has once again threatened Parlak with deportation and has ordered him to apply for residency to some other country. He fears he’ll be returned to Turkey, where the increasing crackdown on Kurdish communities has killed hundreds and displaced 200,000 from their homes. To talk more about the case, we’re joined in Chicago by Ibrahim Parlak, his daughter Livia, and their lawyer, Rob Carpenter.
AMY GOODMAN: Livia Gazzolo, the daughter of Ibrahim Parlak, who we’ll be talking about today. That was Livia singing at a vigil for him a few years ago. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to the case of Michigan resident Ibrahim Parlak, who faces imminent deportation in an asylum case that stretches back close to a quarter of a century.
Ibrahim Parlak is a Kurdish man who came to the United States in 1990 fleeing persecution in his native country, Turkey, where he’d been arrested and tortured for his affiliations with the political arm of the [Kurdistan] Workers’ Party, a Kurdish independence group, better known as the PKK. Once Parlak reached the United States, he was granted political asylum. A year later, he was granted permanent residence.
But all this changed in the years following 2001, when the FBI began to review old asylum files. In the years after Parlak arrived in the U.S., the U.S. government had designated the PKK a terrorist organization, and suddenly, this made Parlak a terrorist, too, although he said he was never a part of the PKK. In 2004, Parlak was arrested and threatened with deportation. But much to the surprise of the Department of Homeland Security, which had designated Parlak a terrorist, the community around him in Harbert, Michigan, rose to his defense. People built websites, organized letter-writing campaigns, held vigils, made so much noise that the agency released him.
But now his immigration case has suddenly come up again. The Department of Homeland Security has once again threatened Ibrahim Parlak with deportation, and has ordered him to apply for residency to some other country. He fears he’ll be returned to Turkey, where the increasing crackdown on Kurdish communities has killed hundreds and displaced 200,000 people from their homes.
To talk more about the case, we go to Chicago. Ibrahim Parlak is with us; his daughter Livia is with us; and their lawyer, Rob Carpenter.
We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Ibrahim Parlak, let’s begin with you. You’ve been here for 25 years. Why is this coming up now?
IBRAHIM PARLAK: Through the whole time, I’ve been trying to become a citizen, and I followed all the procedures and took the exam and passed the exam. Just when I was about to celebrate becoming a citizen, something came up, and they brought up that I had a connection in the past with Kurdish organizations. And I told them, at that time, “Nothing is new, and you should have known that, and all is in the file.” And so, since then, it’s just become sort of like this endless nightmare. And after September 11, it’s got more difficult. And it’s been continuing since then. And, you know, America became my second home. It’s my country. That’s where I live. That’s where my family is. That’s where my community is. That’s where my business is. So I’ve been fighting to stay. And—
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me turn to your lawyer, Rob Carpenter. Rob, if you could lay out for us the legal case—what happened, how he was approved by the U.S. government to live here all these years, and then what happened? Talk about the politics of the United States and Turkey, as well, within that.
ROBERT CARPENTER: Sure, I’ll be happy to. So, when Ibrahim arrived to flee the torture that he was subjected to by the Turkish government, he was granted asylum. He presented all of the relevant facts as to his affiliation with the political arm of the PKK, which was not a terrorist organization at that time. And the government willingly approved his asylum and then his permanent residence. Some time later, when he applied for naturalization to become a U.S. citizen, the government revisited that application in light of the PKK having been designated a terrorist organization after the fact, and decided to try to, I believe, widen the breadth of the definition of terrorism and material support of a terrorist organization to encompass a retroactive application. And the courts upheld that reading of the law, as—frankly, as absurd of a principle as it is. And so, you know, after the removal case took place and after his appeals were exhausted, many people on both sides of the aisle politically came to his aid and pushed for him to receive what’s called deferred action, which would allow him to stay even if he had the deportation order. And that’s how he’s remained from 2009 until 2015. The other reason why he’s been able to remain with work authorization in the United States after that fact is because he’s stateless. Turkey revoked his citizenship. So there’s nowhere to send him to.
What’s changed now, as of two weeks ago, is that we received word that the government had, through back channels, acquired travel documents with the government of Turkey to, in fact, deport him to Turkey, even though he’s not a citizen there and has no real legal way of returning there. Now he does. And so, that was a game-changing piece of information. And so, we took a hard look at the file and are certain that he’ll be tortured if he’s returned to Turkey. And in light of current events, I think that it’s indisputable that he’ll be tortured if he’s returned to Turkey. So we filed a motion to reopen the case to have his claim under the Convention Against Torture, which is a U.N. convention the United States is a signatory to, re-examined by the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the underlying case reopened so that that claim for relief can be—so that the Board of Immigration Appeals can take a look at it again.
AMY GOODMAN: Ibrahim Parlak, what happened to you in Turkish custody before? And what do you think would happen if you return to Turkey now?
IBRAHIM PARLAK: In the past, I’ve been many times taken under the police custody, and once held when the military curfew was issued, '78, for almost three months held in the military custody. That's when I was just about 16. And then, the latest was '88. I was captured and put in jail, in it almost a month, for a month, mistreated, tortured. And it's just—you know, it’s not a memory you want to revisit.
If I go back, what’s happened now, it’s sort of—I mean, to accepting even to go back there, for someone like me, have to be suicidal to do that, because it’s—the conditions over there, they are worse than even before. And, you know, you have over five cities now under curfew, hundreds of thousands of people pushed out of their homes. And, I mean, just this morning, when I was looking at the Turkish headlines, I mean, three Kurdish women in Silopi, they got assassinated. All they were doing, just humanitarian work for those people who are under curfew. And, you know, then you have someone like Tahir Elci, who was just trying to protect historical monument in the middle of the city, get assassinated. And you have journalists being taken away; even they won’t release information where they are. And then you have an immigrant, who had been deported back to Turkey from Russia, get beaten up at the airport in front of everybody, being as a traitor. And then you have the Turkish newspapers running headlines, since the Turkish government released information to them, that after 25 years, finally we got him. He’s on his way back.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel, if you were sent back to Turkey, you could be killed?
IBRAHIM PARLAK: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Livia into this conversation, your daughter, Livia Gazzolo. How has this latest threat to your dad being forced back to Turkey affected you and your family?
LIVIA GAZZOLO: It’s been really scary. I guess, when I was little, it was all kind of—I didn’t know much about the story. I knew the rough outline. I knew my dad was innocent, and everybody loved him, and that’s what got me through. But lately I’ve learned more and all of the details, and it’s just all really scary and very real.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, you’re in college. Have you been put on a no-fly list?
LIVIA GAZZOLO: They didn’t say outrightly that I was, but they said that my name—that it was someone else with my name, Livia Gazzolo, who was on the no-fly list, and I was supposedly mistaken to be her.
AMY GOODMAN: You were stopped coming back from London on a school trip, stopped—
LIVIA GAZZOLO: On a school trip, yeah, twice, in the span of two hours. And my bag was completely checked, and I was patted down and had to be escorted onto the plane. And then again, I went to San Francisco and was taken aside—before I turned 18, too, which was a little startling.
AMY GOODMAN: Ibrahim Parlak, do you have support of elected leaders?
IBRAHIM PARLAK: Yes. It’s been—it’s been a long journey. Through this long journey, the situation I’m in or I’m forced to be in, it’s hard to accept or hard to deal with on a daily basis. But one thing is for sure, that having the community and also having elected officials, someone like Senator Carl Levin, who introduced private bill every two years since 2005, and someone like Congressman Upton, who did the same thing, and still working hard to find a solution, and someone like Jan Schakowsky, and trying to do the right thing—
AMY GOODMAN: Before we end, I want to ask Rob Carpenter: Would Ibrahim Parlak being returned to Turkey violate the Convention Against Torture? We just have 15 seconds.
ROBERT CARPENTER: Yeah, I don’t think there’s any question. It would be at odds with the Convention Against Torture, because it, under Article 3, prohibits the refoulment or return of an individual who is, more likely than not, going to be tortured upon his or her return. And I think that we’re well above that standard. We’re approaching a virtual certainty of him being persecuted upon his return.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you all for being with us—we’ll continue to follow your case—Ibrahim Parlak and your daughter, Livia Gazzolo, also your attorney, Rob Carpenter.
That does it for our broadcast. Democracy Now! is hiring a director of finance and operations. Visit democracynow.org for more information.