Rail trail bridge sign targets Newburyport business owner

Courtesy photo A photo, sent to The Daily News by Jason Devereaux, shows a sign found hanging on the rail trail bridge over Merrimac Street in Newburyport after a rally Friday night in Market Square protesting the camps the U.S. government is using to hold migrants from Mexico and countries in Central America. 

NEWBURYPORT – A local business owner filed a complaint with police Saturday shortly after a sign accusing her husband of being an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent was found hanging from a bridge over Merrimac Street near her salon. 

The sign reads: "Jason Devereax ICE agent and owner of Salon Bellisimo is a danger to our community." 

Salon Bellisimo and Barbershop owner Elaine Devereaux said she found the sign about 8 a.m. Saturday on the Clipper City Rail Trail bridge over Merrimac Street. 

Her discovery came about 12 hours after more than 100 people gathered in Market Square to protest the federal government's use of migrant detention camps to hold people without immigration papers crossing the southern U.S. border.

The 90-minute rally was organized by Indivisible-RISE Newburyport and was part of a coordinated nationwide protest spearheaded by Lights for Liberty. The group opposes the government's use of what it calls "human concentration camps" to house those crossing the southern border into the U.S.

Elaine Devereaux, an Irish native, said while her husband, Jason, works for the Department of Homeland Security, he is not an ICE agent. ICE is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

"I have no idea how they think he's an agent, I don't know," Elaine Devereaux said. She said she came to the country 22 years ago and became a citizen in 2011. 

ICE agents are responsible for preventing migrants from entering the U.S. without authorization; investigating human smuggling and trafficking; and investigating drug smuggling, among other responsibilities.

When reached for comment Monday, Jason Devereaux said he was not allowed to discuss his job with Homeland Security. 

Elaine Devereaux said discovering the sign so close to her Merrimac Street business left her upset and confused. 

"I'm nervous, I'm shaking at work today," she said. "I have no idea where they got this information from and I don't want to lose my business, which I've worked very hard to get."

Newburyport police Marshal Mark Murray said while a crime was not committed other than perhaps violating a city ordinance against placing signs on the rail trail, police are looking into the matter. 

Asked if the sign could be related to the rally Friday, Murray said it was probably not a coincidence. 

"They had a protest and a sign showed up," he said. 

While rally co-organizer Robin Lawson said anything was possible, she found it hard to believe anyone at the rally would be responsible. And while she saw plenty of anti-government signs at the rally, she never saw the one found over the rail trail. 

"I personally wouldn't want anyone in our group or anyone involved with a peaceful protest to be associated with a sign using that language," she said. 

Lawson challenged Murray's belief that the sign was in any way related to the Indivisible-RISE Newburyport rally. 

"I don't understand how he, the marshal, drew the conclusion that it's not a coincidence," Lawson said. 

Mayor Donna Holaday met with Jason and Elaine Devereaux on Monday afternoon and said they were still shaken from the incident.

"They're really disturbed, as they should be," Holaday said, adding that while Jason Devereaux "does work for immigration," the accusation of him of being a part of ICE was "inappropriate."

"I think it's important to get the message out there that this was wrong — the information was incorrect," Holaday said. "Immigration is a very large federal agency ... it doesn't mean that every person is an ICE agent and is going into cities and ripping families apart. I hope people understand this is very hateful and disturbing."

Holaday said while police investigate where the sign came from, she hopes to connect the couple with the Human Rights Commission, which will "check in with them to make sure they're OK."

Staff writer Jack Shea contributed to this story.

Staff writer Dave Rogers can be reached at drogers@newburyportnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.