New DHS chief hints: Maybe we have more legal flexibility on relaxing deportations than we thought

A quick memory-freshener from Conn Carroll. “DACA” stands for “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” a.k.a. the executive moratorium for DREAMers that O rolled out in 2012 to goose Latino turnout that November.

True to form, with a new election looming and Democratic enthusiasm dangerously low, it’s time for DACA II.

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.”…

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

I like the idea of crafting executive policy based on a bill that hasn’t even become law yet. We should do that too. The next GOP president should refuse to collect taxes on the rich beyond a certain amount in anticipation of a tax-reform deal that may or may not eventually be struck in Congress. Just helping people plan for the future, don’tcha know.

Anyway, O’s spent the past year shooing lefties away on immigration by claiming that his authority to act unilaterally only goes so far — a soundbite you rarely hear from him in other matters, especially ObamaCare. Now, go figure, he’s changing his mind. My theory on this was, and is, that the White House went too far in promoting its deportation numbers (which are exaggerated) in order to reassure border hawks that Obama would dutifully enforce the security provisions of a comprehensive immigration deal. The more he touted his deportation cred to give Boehner some cover to pass something, the more it irritated amnesty fans on the left, to the point where he’s now forced to formally relax his policy — which has already been pretty darned relaxed in key ways. Greg Sargent wonders if Obama moving on deportations might convince the House GOP that they’d better hurry up and pass something before Dems get yet another round of credit among Latino voters. Answer: No, if anything, Republicans will sense that another unilateral executive move will further motivate conservatives to turn out this fall. They’re happy to stand by and let him do it. In a midterm election, they’ll take their chances pitting their base against the Democrats’; it’s 2016 that worries GOPers, not this year. It’d be nutty, if O extends the moratorium on deportations, for Boehner to defuse conservative anger by ratifying Obama’s order with a new bill.

What you should worry about here isn’t that the House will pass a bill tomorrow, it’s that Obama can set a precedent that a new Republican president will be loath to reverse. Doing nothing on immigration is one thing; the GOP might be willing to risk that in the near term for the reason I described above. Doing something splashy to remove illegals at a faster clip, though, is something else altogether. Once O issues DACA II and sets a new baseline on deportations, a Republican president’s departure from it will be treated by lefties as some sort of pogrom against Latinos. No GOPer will dare risk that unless/until there’s a comprehensive immigration deal in place to provide political cover. That’s really why amnesty fans want Obama to do something here, I think. The sooner he acts, the sooner a new baseline is locked in.