When Ibraham Parlak was arrested by Homeland Security in July of 2004 as a Kurdish terrorist who needed to be thrown out of the country, the first Chicago journalist to write about his plight was Mike Sneed. I had something to do with that. Parlak ran a restaurant on the Red Arrow Highway in southwest Michigan and was a popular member of the Harbor Country community. But his application to become a naturalized American set off an alarm. He’d once been arrested back in Turkey as a member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which in 1997—six years after he came to America—the U.S. designated a terrorist organization. A friend who knew Parlak well called me crying. He’d just been scooped up and thrown in jail and he could be shipped off at any time to Turkey. Parlak had a wife, a family, a business—he was no enemy of America! Something had to be done.
Sometimes the reason to write a news story is to send a message: Somebody’s watching! Parlak needed coverage fast. I called Sneed. She wrote her story, and then other people wrote their own. The community rallied around Parlak; influential lawyers with Washington connections joined his legal team. After ten months behind bars, Parlak was released from jail and went back to his family and restaurant.
But Homeland Security didn’t drop the case. Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat, and Congressman Fred Upton, a Republican, wrote private bills to give Parlak permanent residency, but the bills never went forward and Levin eventually retired. Yet one year after another went by, until I for one assumed the matter had been taken care of. I have a place out there, and we’d eat at Parlak’s restaurant, Café Gulistan, and all seemed normal; I’d buy newspapers and groceries at a store near our house that’s run by a close friend of Parlak’s and I stopped asking about him.
One of life’s great illusions is that time necessarily makes a difference. Sometimes all it does is reward implacability. Two weeks ago I was startled by a column by Carol Marin in the Sun-Times that asked “Will Ibrahim Parlak’s torture ever end?” Back in the day that I’d thought was long past, Marin was one of Parlak’s champions. Her new story continued, “On Nov. 3, he is once again ordered to report to U.S. immigration authorities in Detroit for questioning. He fears what’s coming.”
She went on to say:
At 53, Ibrahim Parlak is a slight man with a quiet manner and a palpable burden. The Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has all but issued him a ball and chain. He must return their phone calls within three minutes. He has had to drive six hours round trip to Detroit for mandatory meetings that often last only minutes.
Mysteriously, bank after bank has told him to take his business elsewhere. Even when all he seeks to do is DEPOSIT money.
Do they explain?
“No,” he replies. “Never.”
Homeland Security has ordered Ibrahim to apply for residency to some other country.
Other writers then covered the same ground for themselves. One was Geoffrey Stone, interim dean of the University of Chicago law school, who championed Parlak on HuffPo:
In the name of decency and human rights, it is time to bring this absurd and, indeed, unjust campaign of persecution to an end. It is time for President Obama to issue a presidential pardon to Ibrahim, and let this good and decent man who has lived a peaceful and lovely life in our nation for more than twenty years live, finally, in peace.
And on Wednesday the Parlak story was told by Evan Osnos for the New Yorker. Like Marin, Osnos had covered Parlak years before, in Osnos’s case for the Chicago Tribune. Like me, he’d supposed that justice was simply a matter of time. But he was wrong.
In the years since 9/11, Americans have arrived at an informal consensus that we don’t often acknowledge: we tolerate, to one degree or another, curbs on our civil liberties in order to stop those who would do us harm. . .But, in order to sustain that consensus, we must acknowledge the costs of those mistakes. . . . And, when we err, it is up to us to correct it.
Thanks mainly to Marin, the media has circled back around for another look at an old injustice. What it found was injustice on automatic pilot.
An earlier version of this post misstated the location of Parlak’s restaurant, which is located in southwest Michigan.