Wilco's Tweedy plays benefit for Kurdish man threatened with deportation

It was hard to tell who got louder applause: Ibrahim Parlak, a Kurd fighting deportation, or Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy. Not that the two usually share a stage.

But on Friday night, Tweedy played a solo benefit concert for Parlak to a crowd of 280 at the Acorn Theater in Three Oaks, Mich. He packed the house and generated an estimated $14,000 in ticket sales that will help pay legal fees in an immigration case that has gone on for more than a decade.

"We are one," Parlak said from the stage with his daughter, Livia Gazzolo, and her mother, Michele Gazzolo, standing beside him. "No one can separate us. It's our night. It's our day. Let's have our day."

The crowd, some wearing shirts with Parlak's name, cheered.

Wearing a white cowboy hat, Tweedy came out strumming. During his 75-minute acoustic set, he played songs that spanned his career, from "Misunderstood" off the 1996 album "Being There," to "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," a song on the 2002 album "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" and "Dawned on Me" from 2011's "The Whole Love."

"This is the closest I've ever played to a bed I own," said Tweedy, who owns a home in Harbert, Mich.

Tweedy kept the mood light, making jokes with the audience. While the concert may have been lighthearted, many in the audience are seriously concerned for Parlak, who could be forced from the country after his deferral of deportation expires.

At this point, even Parlak is sick of hearing his own story. The past few fearful months have worn on him, he said.

In 2004, the Department of Homeland Security charged Parlak with lying on his green card application about time he spent in a Turkish prison and his ties to a terrorist organization. He has fought to clear his name since.

On Christmas Eve, Parlak's deferral of deportation was set to expire. He said he feared that he would be forced to leave the country in a matter of days and that he would be arrested, tortured and possibly killed upon his arrival to Turkey.

But on Dec. 21, his attorney, Robert Carpenter, filed a motion to the Board of Immigration Appeals to reopen his case. In response, Homeland Security granted Parlak a 90-day stay of deportation but later requested that the board deny the motion, despite congressional support for Parlak. The deferral is set to expire in March.

Reps. Fred Upton., R-Mich., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Michigan U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, both Democrats, all sent letters asking Jeh Johnson, Homeland Security secretary, not to oppose the motion. Upton and Parlak also signed a joint statement urging Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, to advance a bill to the House requesting a report on Parlak's immigration status that would keep him in the country for the duration of this Congress.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Detroit said the department cannot comment on active litigation but that the case is under agency review and that Parlak's removal from the country is not imminent.

Parlak is seeking relief under the U.N. Convention Against Torture, or CAT, which prevents the deportation of a person to a country where they are likely to be tortured. But to reopen his case, Parlak must prove that conditions in Turkey have changed since he was ordered to be removed from the country 11 years ago and that a second round of litigation would end differently. Homeland Security said he has not provided proof.

The department pointed out in a February filing that Parlak had not previously proved he would likely be tortured if he returned to Turkey.

A review of Parlak's asylum application materials found that he omitted key facts of his story, including that he was tried, arrested and convicted in the Turkish courts for his involvement in a 1987 skirmish between Turkish soldiers and the PKK at the Syrian border, the department said. Two Turkish soldiers were killed in the dispute. The department also attacked Parlak's inconsistency in court.

Parlak said he ran when the shooting started. Parlak spent 16 months in prison for his involvement, but was later found not guilty and released. He was later convicted of separatism. But the court that convicted him, the Turkish State Security Court, a military court that relied on torture-induced evidence, was later disbanded by the Turkish government, Carpenter said.

An immigration attorney handling Parlak's case checked the "no" box next to a question about whether he had served prison time because he had been a political prisoner of the military, Carpenter said.

Before the concert, Parlak's friends and family gathered at his restaurant, Cafe Gulistan in Harbert, for a celebratory dinner. People cycled through the brick building, and Parlak embraced them as they entered.

Father and son Bill and Sam Burk sat at a merchandise table, selling bright yellow "Friends4Ibrahim" shirts.

"Ibrahim is the bravest man I know," said Nick Gazzolo, uncle to Parlak's daughter.

Joel Klass, who maintains the freeibrahim.com website, said joining the fight for Parlak was one of the best decisions he ever made. He sees him like a brother now, he said.

"It's been good in so many ways, but what would be better is to have it all in the rearview so our friendship could grow in a more natural light," he said.

mmccall@tribpub.com

Twitter @MatthewMcCall_

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