A Tale of Two Exiles: US Immigration Hypocrisy in Stark Relief

Huseyin Parlak, a Kurdish man from Turkey, entered the US legally on a student visa in 1998, filed a claim for political asylum and went to every court date and meeting immigration officials asked of him. He has no criminal record, works in his brother’s restaurant in southwest Michigan and pays taxes.

Luis Posada Carriles, a right-wing Cuban exile, was convicted of bombing a jetliner that killed 73 people, of trying to assassinate a head of state, and carrying out multiple bombings. He escaped from prison in Venezuela, used numerous fake documents, entered the US illegally, and hid from US immigration officials. He has also allegedly been a member and accomplice of several terrorist groups.

On May 14, Parlak was deported to Turkey, with no advance notice, not even allowed to say goodbye to family and friends or pick up money and a change of clothes.

On May 8, a federal judge dropped immigration charges against Posada, who had been free on bond in Miami since being released from a New Mexico jail in April. Now he is relieved of bond and able to live as a free man in the US. The charges were dropped several days before Posada’s trial on seven counts of immigration fraud including lying to immigration officials, who had previously deemed Posada a national security threat.

Comparing the two men’s situations provides a prime example of hypocrisy and double standards within the US immigration system.

Parlak’s brother Ibrahim, who was held in immigration detention for 14 months himself, says that when he argued with immigration officials about his brother’s speedy and unexpected deportation, which comes with a 10-year ban on re-entering the US, he was told they were just following the laws.

"He had a clean record, he never did anything wrong, he wasn’t hiding anywhere, he was there every time they asked," said Parlak, whose own deportation order is frozen indefinitely since Michigan legislators (Senator Carl Levin and Congressman Fred Upton) have introduced private bills on his behalf. "When they say they’re playing by the rules, those rules should be for everybody. Not different rules for Cubans and Kurds."

The current immigration debate focuses largely on punishing immigrants who "broke the law" by entering the US illegally, and anti-immigrant parties frequently say they have no problem with immigration if it is done through legal channels. Ibrahim Parlak points out that his brother, now 40, followed the laws all along the way, and did everything authorities asked of him, even surrendering his passport. If his asylum claim had been denied — he was deported before it had been resolved — Parlak says the family likely would have voluntarily bought Huseyin a ticket to London or Germany, saving taxpayer money and avoiding the 10-year ban on re-entry.

Posada, by contrast, does not dispute that he entered the US illegally in 2005. He says he entered with a coyote through the desert near Brownsville, Texas; the government says he entered Florida on a shrimp boat owned by a wealthy Cuban American developer later sent to prison for weapons violations in an alleged plot to kill Castro. Posada was arrested by immigration agents in Miami in May 2005 and ordered deported four months later, but remained in limbo since the US couldn’t find a country willing to take him.

Breaking immigration laws is the least of Posada’ legal violations. Though he has not been charged with a crime by the US Department of Justice, it has called him "a dangerous criminal and an admitted mastermind of terrorist plots." A long list of crimes attributable to Posada in his all-out campaign against Cuban president Fidel Castro includes the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner killing 73 people, for which he served eight years in prison in Venezuela before escaping; an assassination attempt on Castro in Panama in 2000, for which he was convicted but then pardoned four years later; and numerous bombings of tourist sites in Cuba in 1997, including attacks on European companies doing business with Cuba. An Italian tourist was killed in one of the bombings. Posada was even implicated in a 1976 car bombing in Washington DC, which killed Chilean foreign minister Orlando Letelier and American activist Ronni Moffit. Evidence sought by a grand jury relating to that bombing was destroyed in the FBI’s Miami office.

The White House has refused to comply with Venezuela ‘s extradition request for Posada, on the grounds he could be tortured in Venezuela — even though there are no credible reports of torture under president Hugo Chavez’s regime. The real reason for the Bush administration’s support of Posada is assumed to be that they don’t want him to reveal details of his work with the CIA in Central American counter-insurgency operations in the 1980s, including the Iran-Contra affair. His association with the CIA goes back at least until 1961, when he helped organize the Bay of Pigs invasion. He also trained at the infamous School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga.


[Photo: Ibrahim Parlak and his daughter in Cafe Gulistan, where Parlak’s brother Huseyin worked before being deported by Homeland Security, despite the fact he had followed every legal process to gain legal residence. Photo by Kari Lydersen]

Meanwhile Ibrahim Parlak and by extension Huseyin face very real threats of violence and torture in Turkey, since Ibrahim was active in the Kurdish independence movement, which has long been brutally suppressed by the Turkish government — until recently it was illegal to even speak Kurdish. The US State Department’s own reports describe systematic torture and persecution of leftists and Kurds by Turkish security forces.

Ibrahim Parlak was granted asylum in the US in 1992, but in 2004 the Department of Homeland Security put him in deportation proceedings after receiving a letter from a Turkish military court relating to Parlak’s past conviction for alleged involvement in the shooting deaths of two Turkish border guards and for alleged activities with the PKK — Kurdistan Workers Party — in the 1980s. Immigration officials said Parlak lied on his asylum application when he said he had never been convicted of a crime. Parlak said he thought the question only referred to convictions in the US.

The Department of Justice’s case against Posada charged he knowingly lied on his application to become a naturalized citizen and lied about how he entered the US. Posada admitted to using false documents to seek asylum in the US, among a string of false documents he’s used over the years, reportedly with the assistance of US authorities.

During his immigration hearings in 2004, the government argued that along with the specific charges against him in the Turkish military court, Ibrahim Parlak’s alleged association with the PKK, now (though not during Parlak’s time in Turkey) labeled a terrorist group by the State Department, makes him a national security threat. Parlak has maintained he was part of the civil society branch of the Kurdish independence movement, and that the movement is a valid movement for freedom and autonomy akin to the US ‘s own fight for independence from Great Britain. Political activity has never figured into Huseyin’s immigration case, though his supporters think immigration officials are likely trying to punish Ibrahim by deporting Huseyin.

Posada, by contrast, is known to have extensive involvement with and links to a variety of groups accused of terrorism and state-sponsored violence and repression, including Venezuela’s secret police in the 1970s, various Central American counter-insurgency operations and the right-wing Cuban militant organization Alpha 66 and other militant networks in the Miami area.

"It’s more than just letting Posada go free for the crimes he’s committed, it’s giving a green light to a whole network of terrorists in Miami who are determined to continue attacks on the people of Cuba, its leadership, and on Venezuela as well," said Gloria La Riva, coordinator of the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, an organization advocating the release of Cuban operatives serving life sentences for espionage charges related to their infiltration of right-wing Cuban American groups. "The series of moves US officials engaged in recently show they are still fully backing a terrorist."


Posada Carriles

La Riva says that along with releasing Posada, the US is condoning terrorism by reducing the four and three year sentences for weapons charges being served by Santiago Alvarez, whose boat Posada allegedly entered the country on, and Osvaldo Mitat. Federal prosecutors agreed to reduce their sentences in early May after the men surrendered a cache of weapons including hundreds of machine guns, illegal explosives and a grenade launcher.

"What are they doing with all those weapons, and how many more do they have?" asked La Riva. "There is a great danger of terrorism from these men."

In setting bond for Posada, federal judge Kathleen Cardone argued he is a "frail" 79-year-old man, and not a flight risk or threat. But frail as he may be, he entered the US illegally just two years ago and has not renounced violence as a means to Cuban regime change.

By contrast Ibrahim Parlak says it is obvious his brother was in no way a threat or flight risk. During a conversation in Cafe Gulistan, the popular restaurant he owns in Harbert, Michigan, where a hand-made wall hanging quotes Benjamin Franklin saying those who would give up liberty for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both, Parlak explains that Huseyin had a steady job in the restaurant and a girlfriend; and that he had willingly complied with all immigration officials’ demands.

Huseyin reached Ibrahim by cell phone as he was on the plane with two agents, and was able to tell him in Turkish what airline he was on. Ibrahim figured out his flight information and alerted family members in Turkey. But, Ibrahim noted, things are not that easy for many deported immigrants, who often go to countries they barely know anymore without anyone to meet them and only the shirt on their backs.

"We are deporting thousands every year, and if we’re treating them like this, we’re creating so much anger and hostility, we’re creating raw material for Al Qaeda," he said. "Huseyin knows the American people, he understands the situation and he understands that two agents don’t represent all of America. But not everyone will understand that."

Ibrahim Parlak thinks his brother is probably safe for the time being in Turkey, surrounded by family members and trying to re-adjust to the culture. While he himself is afraid of being imprisoned and tortured if he returns to Turkey, he doesn’t think the government will bother Huseyin. But he said he couldn’t ignore the scores of Turkish headlines he’s seen on the internet along the lines of, "Terrorist Ibrahim Parlak’s Brother Coming Back."

"So if some crazy person tries to do something, the government will just say it’s common street crime," Parlak said, pointing to the January killing of Hrant Dink, a Turkish journalist who had been prosecuted by the government various times for writing about the country’s Armenian genocide in the early 1900s.

Meanwhile in the eyes of many, US governmental actions like the contradictory treatments of Huseyin Parlak and Luis Posada Carriles are moving the US closer to regimes like this, where the rule of law is imposed arbitrarily and free speech draws violence and repression.

"The message is clear — to put that fear out there," said Parlak. "It’s a message not just to me but to everybody that they’ll do what they want no matter what."