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Ahead of Super Bowl LI, NFL has ‘no concerns’ regarding immigration order protests

The field at NRG Stadium ahead of Super Bowl LI. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

HOUSTON — Super Bowl LI may well serve as a backdrop for protests against the presidential immigration order that has sparked pushback and impassioned gatherings at courthouses, airports and public squares around the country. But officials in charge of security in and around Sunday’s game at Houston’s NRG Stadium insisted Tuesday that they have no special concern and are prepared for all eventualities.

“I have no concerns related to that,” said NFL Security Chief Cathy L. Lanier during the NFL’s annual pregame security briefing. Lanier, who is Washington’s former police chief, was named the NFL’s top security officer in August.

President Trump’s immigration order, announced Friday, temporarily bans entry into the United States for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries and refugees from around the world.

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Joining Lanier and officials from the FBI, CIA and Department of Homeland Security for Tuesday’s briefing, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said his department was well-schooled in working peaceably with demonstrators and voiced no reason to expect otherwise as the Super Bowl draws near. Acevedo predicted the most effective peace-keepers may well be the citizen-protestors themselves.

“We’re not concerned with protests,” Acevedo said. “We have a really, really long history of having responsible activists in our community. There is a longstanding working relationship with the Houston Police Department, our special response group that handles mass demonstrations. Most importantly, we have open lines of communication.”

Acevedo then added: “For those that might want to come in from the outside and cause problems in Houston, know this: You will be greatly outnumbered by activists that care about their message, that care about what they want to convey. They don’t want their protests, if there is one — and more than likely there will be — to be hijacked by anyone who wants to come here and cause problems. They will be the first ones to stand up to anybody.”

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Given the Super Bowl’s scale and prominence, the federal government designates it a “Level 1” security event. That’s the country’s highest priority security designation, which means the resources of the FBI, CIA and U.S. Department of Homeland Security will help local law enforcement safeguard the proceedings. On Sunday, 73,000 NFL fans are expected at NRG Stadium, with another 100 million viewers looking on.

The essential message of Tuesday’s briefing: Security measures both visible and behind the scenes will keep fans safe, but they won’t be so burdensome that they rob spectators’ enjoyment.

“All eyes of the world will be on the event,” said Chip Fulghum of the U.S. Homeland Security Department. “We are prepared.”