LOS ANGELES (Jan. 22) - With Super Bowl Sunday just days away, federal immigration officials in San Diego have arrested ''a number'' of foreign-born residents with access to the game's venue, Qualcomm Stadium, in an unprecedented security crackdown, officials said Wednesday.

The plan, known as ''Operation Game Day,'' is part of a $9 million post-Sept. 11 anti-terrorism effort that includes beefed up security at the California-Mexico border, a no-fly zone over the stadium, military air patrols and an elaborate camera system monitoring every inch of the stadium and environs.

Arab-American groups estimated at least 36 people have been detained -- mostly Middle Eastern and Latino workers who were security guards or concession workers at the stadium. Foreign-born taxi and bus drivers have also been arrested. The San Diego Union Tribune quoted sources as saying 80 people were being held.

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service is revealing little about the operation and at first denied comment before issuing a statement with a few details, but no numbers.

''We are confirming that we do have an ongoing operation in San Diego aimed at providing security for the Super Bowl,'' INS spokeswoman Lauren Mack said. ''Our agency is involved in looking at security guards and transportation workers (in the
San Diego area).''

The INS would not divulge the number of arrests or the ethnic identities of those detained, but said the sweep was ''continuing.''


''We are not giving numbers of arrests until investigation is completed,'' Mack said. ''We have made a number of arrests of individuals suspected of violating immigration and criminal laws.''

Mack said detainees would be held at federal detention facilities until hearings were held to determine whether they were eligible for release on bail.

Sam Hamod, spokesman for
San Diego's Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, characterized the arrests as ''ethnic cleansing.''

''They have targeted what they say are illegals who are in their database,'' Hamod said. ''The problem is we don't know what the database is saying. People are in the database because of the (INS) slowdown in processing (their immigration applications) or people have been witnesses for the government and that's why they are in there.''

Hamod said he has received dozens of calls over the past few days from frightened Arab community members who reported that the government seemed interested in taxi drivers, concession workers and security guards of Afghan, Iranian, Arab and Mexican origin.

Civil libertarians doubted whether the broad sweep would net any potential terrorists and said the INS appeared to be backtracking on a pledge of amnesty for residents whose immigration paperwork was caught in government limbo.

''It is just another example of the government engaging in a broad, suspicionless profile based on nothing more than immigration status and national origin,'' said Jordan Budd, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego.

''We (the American government) are targeting people who present no threat but who we need to build the strongest relations with (because) they are the eyes and ears of the community.''


The last time the Super Bowl was played in
San Diego was 1998, when things were ''significantly different,'' Assistant Police Chief Bill Maheu said.

On game day, military air patrols will enforce a temporary no-fly zone within seve
n miles of the stadium, he added.

The XXXVII Super Bowl pitting the Oakland Raiders against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won't have the same national security rating as last year's contest in
New Orleans -- it has been downgraded to the same level as a national political convention, said Jim Steeg, NFL senior vice president of special events.

But the custom-made security plan is far more sophisticated than the last-minute measures put in place just months after the
Sept. 11, 2001 hijack attacks, he said.

Most of the 67,000 fans attending the game will have to park about five miles from Qualcomm Stadium and present game tickets to board shuttles to the stadium complex, where they will all undergo the same type of screening as airline passengers, Maheu said.

Staff and media working the event were issued the same photo badges, made by ImageWare Systems Inc. of San Diego, that are used to secure the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, said ImageWare Chief Executive Jim Miller.

The software has never been used at a sporting event, Miller said, but then, ''traditionally in our society we don't use this kind of thing at sporting events.''

Once inside, a 50-camera video surveillance system monitors practically every corner of the stadium but will rely on human eyes rather than face-recognition software to spot problems.

''We are not using that because it doesn't work,'' Maheu said. ''You are talking about people who convince a 17-year-old girl to wrap herself in explosives and walk into a venue -- her face won't be in the database.''

''What's better is this girl walks into a
San Diego venue with a trench coat on and it's 75 degrees and a security officer sees her,'' Maheu said. ''That's accurate.''

San Diego police were conducting ''several'' undercover operations throughout the city this week, so far no plots have been uncovered. ''Piece of cake,'' Maheu said. ''Ask me Monday. I hope I say the same thing.''

REUTERS  Reut18:35 01-22-03

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