As the city readied for Sunday's Super Bowl game, federal agents carried out their own preparations: a sweep that resulted in the arrests of more than 50 immigrants suspected of living or working in the United States without proper documents.
A government official familiar with the action by the Immigration and Naturalization Service said Thursday that investigators had targeted security companies hired to help protect fans attending the Super Bowl and festivities related to the high-profile event.
The official, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution for speaking to the media, said that from 50 to 70 people had been arrested in the action, dubbed Operation Game Day.
"We're focusing mostly on security companies contracted for the event and on security guards who will have access to the stadium. No terrorists that I know of have been found, but the thinking was that it would be easy for a terrorist to be allowed into the stadium by an accomplice working as a security guard," he said.
Most of those taken into custody are suspected of being in the United States illegally or of working without proper documentation.
Calls to the INS district director's office in San Diego were not returned. Local officials who normally speak for the agency have refused to comment since the sweep was reported in the local media earlier in the week.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, federal authorities have detained or arrested hundreds of foreign-born U.S. residents picked up in security sweeps across the country, prompting outcries and lawsuits by civil liberties advocates.
The vast majority of those detained have been held on suspicion of violations unrelated to terrorism, such as the use of false identification or over-staying visas.
About 800 workers, many of them undocumented, were arrested last year in a series of security checks at the nation's airports conducted under the name Operation Tarmac.
In recent months, hundreds of foreign nationals have been detained for immigration violations after they obeyed a new requirement that foreign men from a number of predominantly Muslim countries register with the federal government.
That program has led to the arrests of three suspected terrorists, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
Federal authorities said there are no suspected terrorists among those arrested in San Diego, many of whom are from Mexico.
Times staff writer Bettina Boxall contributed to this report.