Obama administration feeling real pressure on deportations?

Lawmakers who have long been urging the Obama administration to act unilaterally to ease the pace of deportations are now cautiously optimistic that Obama officials are taking their suggestions far more seriously, and think some sort of action is a real possibility – a shift from a month ago, when anger was on the rise.

Today members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with the head of the Department of Homeland Security and presented him with a memo outlining their demands for executive action. That memo urges DHS chief Jeh Johnson to do everything in his power to suspend or delay the deportation of those who would be impacted by the Senate immigration bill — for example, by expanding the deferred prosecution of DREAMers to include their relatives.

Three lawmakers who were at the meeting with Johnson tell me they were pleased with what they heard. They suggested they came away convinced that the administration is re-evaluating its previous views as to the limits on Obama’s legal flexibility, though they cautioned that no specific promises were made.

“My impression was that he is going to change policies to cut the number of deportations, but that the number is not going to be where we would like it to be,” one Member of Congress who was at the meeting told me. “I took away that he’s going to revamp the policy.”

A second Member who was present said that Johnson indicated he was taking seriously the suggestions in the memo offered by the CHC. The member noted that discussion also focused on a recent New York Times editorial urging Obama to consider deferring deportation of “millions” of unauthorized immigrants, including the parents of DREAMers and of citizen children.

Both the memo and the Times editorial took expansive views of Obama’s power, so participants were encouraged that Johnson did not explicitly disagree with either, the Member told me. “He did not rule anything out,” this Member said.

“There is movement,” the Member added. “I feel confident that the president is listening to us and to the broader community.”

 A third Member who was at the meeting said it was clear Johnson was undertaking a very comprehensive look at multiple ways Obama might be able to act to ease deportations, and that he’s looking at possibly acting in two stages — one more incremental, the second more ambitious.

“He’s thinking in big ways,” this Member said, adding that his impression is that “there are going to be some intermediate steps coming.”

Obviously it’s hard to know where this is headed — the administration could be simply trying to quiet pressure on it to act, to refocus pressure on House Republicans. But the Members I spoke to seemed persuaded a serious effort to reevaluate the extent of Obama’s ability to ease deportations is underway.

One key question: Do House Republicans sense the seemingly real possibility of unilateral action from Obama as a deadline of sorts for them? In other words, do they take that possibility seriously, and do they see it as an incentive for them to act legislatively, so their chance to put their stamp on reform — and begin to get right with Latinos before 2016 – doesn’t slip away for good?

The answers are Yes, and No. Asked if they thought Obama might act, one House GOP leadership aide tells me: “We take it seriously that there’s real potential he’ll do it. We see it as very possible that it happens.” However, this aide adds that this doesn’t change their current calculus or make Republicans any more inclined to act legislatively themselves.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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