By Allan Lengel
For Deadline Detroit
DETROIT — The language from the federal bench in Detroit was stark and unsettling.
U.S. District Judge Robert H. Cleland compared illegal immigrants to an insect and menacing Japanese beetles in 2013 while sentencing a 21-year-old undocumented immigrant from Mexico. A couple years later, a fellow judge called that analogy disturbing.
“One little attractive iridescent emerald beetle from Japan is not really any threat at all,” Judge Cleland said. “But when it multiplies and hundreds of millions of its offspring or relatives emerge and devastate the ash tree population in the continental United States and elsewhere, it’s a serious problem.
“So the one very attractive little insect is nothing more than interesting, but it’s an example of a very large problem. And I think that’s what I have here.”
The colorful remarks, contained in a transcript recently obtained by Deadline Detroit, seem germane at a time when immigration is a hot-button issue and more criminal cases are likely to end up before federal judges like Cleland, who continues to serve on the bench.
“It’s very offensive and racist,” comments Brent A. Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington, who was contacted by Deadline. “I feel anyone coming before him would not get a fair hearing because of that racist mentality.”
Judge Cleland, appointed in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, declined comment.
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