When former Mayor Michael Nutter ordered an about-face on Philadelphia's immigration enforcement policy days before he left office, immigrant-rights groups cried foul, suspecting a quid pro quo.
Surely, they said, though offering no evidence, Nutter would be rewarded for his pivot in adopting the 14-month-old Priority Enforcement Program, a pet project of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, with whom he spent much time in preparation for September's papal visit.
To promote PEP's adoption by cities and towns, Johnson needed a high-profile municipality to reverse its image as a sanctuary city. Nutter's 11th-hour executive order did that.
Within hours, the Department of Homeland Security put out a release trumpeting the city's reversal.
Then came word Friday that Nutter had been named to a DHS advisory council, reigniting speculation on social media about a "career move."
While Nutter gets no pay for his voluntary service on the 40-member Homeland Security Advisory Council, which advises Johnson on public safety, counterterrorism, and cyber security, the role does extend his entree in top circles in Washington, and some see it as a plum perch from which to seek federal employment.
"When Mayor Nutter betrayed our communities and his own policy, we knew it was more about his own future," said Erika Almiron, executive director of Juntos, a Latino-support group in South Philadelphia.
"If Nutter is to be an adviser," said Marisa Franco, director of Not1More, a national immigrant-rights campaign, "it raises questions about what DHS intends to do to our communities this year."
In an interview Tuesday, Nutter said his critics "are just wrong."
"It's not a job," he said. "If you got appointed to your PTA, would you call that a job? There's no compensation."
Nutter said he had not lobbied for the appointment and didn't know the council existed until very late in December, when he was approached about it. The position requires attendance in Washington at private, six-hour meetings, three to four times a year.
The idea that he was promised employment in exchange for flipping Philadelphia's policy is without merit, he said.
"I didn't get anything," said Nutter, "and I don't do things that way. Obviously, it's an insult to the way that we conducted our business. . . . I was asked to do something on public safety on behalf of our nation. These are issues I care passionately about."
In April 2014, Nutter was hailed as being at the forefront of a national movement to protect immigrants from deportation over minor crimes when he ordered police and prison officials to end cooperation with PEP's predecessor, Secure Communities.
That executive order, signed publicly amid cheers by many of the same activists now criticizing him, put an end to honoring "ICE holds," the requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to detain arrested immigrants who would otherwise be released on bail or after having served sentences so that ICE could process them for deportation.
In opting out of Secure Communities, Nutter cited "the overly aggressive use" of detainers, and concern that a too-close collaboration with ICE could undermine public safety if immigrants came to fear cooperating with local police.
After several dozen cities, towns, and counties also opted out of Secure Communities, DHS withdrew it and in 2015 came forward with PEP.
Nutter said he promised Johnson, President Obama, and former and current Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch that he would reconsider the city's policy after evaluating PEP.
As a result of that reevaluation, he said, he modified Philadelphia's policy again.
"We said [to ICE] if you ask us about certain individuals by name who meet this criteria - are known terrorists, people who threaten national security, people convicted of murder, rape, human trafficking, gang activity as defined by the federal government, not just five people standing on a street corner - if you ask us when they are getting out," said Nutter, "we'll tell you. If you want us to hold somebody, you still have to show up with a judicial warrant."
In some ways, the controversy has been a tempest in a teapot because Mayor Kenney, among his first executive orders on Jan. 4, barred almost all cooperation between city law enforcement and federal immigration agents.
Kenney said Johnson would send ICE representatives to Philadelphia to make a new pitch for PEP. "But until that happens," he said, "we are going back to our old situation."