As the players from the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers football teams prepare to kick off Super Bowl XXXVII, Immigration and Naturalization Service agents kicked off their own pre-game activity arresting dozens in a security sweep dubbed “Operation Game Day,” according to published reports.
More than 50 foreign-born security guards, transportation workers and taxicab drivers have been arrested in San Diego on suspicion of being in the United States illegally.
The Los Angeles Times reports investigators targeted security companies hired to help protect fans attending Sunday’s game and festivities leading up to the high-profile event at Qualcomm Stadium.
Immigration officers told the San Diego Union-Tribune roughly 80 people have been singled out altogether and more arrests are expected.
The security guards being held are said to come from Latin American countries, while many of the transportation workers are from 25 countries suspected of having terrorist cells.
INS said none of the detainees had been linked to terror.
The Super Bowl sweep comes on the heels of the deadline for certain foreign nationals to register with the federal government. As a result of the registration, INS detained hundreds of immigrants in California for alleged violations. The Justice Department reports the program led to the arrests of three suspected terrorists, according to the Times.
Immigrants’ advocates are crying foul.
“This is being done in the name of national security,” Jordan Budd, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union’s San Diego chapter, told the Bradenton Herald. “That is a farce. They’re simply scapegoating the immigrant community while doing nothing to make the public safer.”
Among those picked up in the sweep, according to the Union-Tribune, are security guards Efra?n Alvarez Jacobo and Aaron Fernando Reyes Ortiz. The two pleaded not guilty to immigration violations.
Alvarez was charged with owning a gun as a convicted felon. Prosecutors said they are also investigating him for a series of home invasions by burglars posing as security officers.
“He’s confident he’ll be cleared,” Alvarez’s attorney, Gerald Singleton, told the Union-Tribune and said his client “certainly is not a national security risk.”
News of the immigrant crackdown also comes one day after an audit by the Justice Department inspector general criticized the federal agency for failing to correct significant security deficiencies at airports.
Among the problems highlighted by the inspector general:
- airports remain vulnerable to illegal entries by foreign travelers;
- escapes by people detained for questioning;
- smuggling of aliens, drugs and other illegal substances.
The audit report ripped the INS for not implementing recommendations made in a 1999 audit, including the suggested repair of inoperable surveillance cameras and alarms.
“We found that the INS had not even advised its own airport staff of the results of the prior audit,” Inspector General Glen A. Fine wrote in the report.