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RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.: Immigration issue should be handled with care. Politicians are clumsy.

As someone who spent three decades covering the immigration issue in different cities at ground zero — i.e., the Southwest — and from every possible angle, I don’t suffer fools gladly.

Unfortunately, this issue is a fool magnet. I’m bored with liberals who appear to want an open border because they claim that “no human being is illegal.” But I’m just as fed up with conservatives who pretend the country is being invaded and ignore the fact that employers — including American households — are addicted to undocumented labor.

When it comes to immigration, politicians in particular will say — and do — the darnedest things.

On the Democratic side, we have Vice President Kamala Harris, the administration’s point person on immigration, the U.S.-Mexico border and the refugee crisis. But she should not go anywhere near those topics.

During a recent appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Harris gave Republicans ammunition to portray her — and the White House — as out of touch by glibly declaring that “the border is secure.” Host Chuck Todd tried to give Harris a chance to correct herself. Todd noted that this year as many as 2 million people will have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. And even so, he asked, “You’re confident this border’s secure?” Harris fumbled her way through an answer, insisting that “we have a secure border in that, that is a priority for any nation, including ours and our administration.”

The vice president blew the chance to bring nuance to the discussion about border security. She could have pointed out that, when conservatives claim the border isn’t “secure,” what they really mean is that it isn’t sealed. Then she could have explained how we’re never going to seal a border that spans nearly 2,000 miles. But we can secure it.

The administration’s fiscal 2022 budget for the Department of Homeland Security provides $1.2 billion for border security. The Border Patrol has more than 19,500 agents and most of them are deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border. The agency has drones, horses, all-terrain vehicles, boats, planes, helicopters and hundreds of miles of sensors and surveillance equipment.

That is what a secure border looks like. You think the fact that people are coming across means the border isn’t “secure”?

Wrong. People have crossed that border — legally and illegally — for more than 150 years, since the United States pilfered the Southwest from Mexico and drew an arbitrary line in the dirt. The desperate will always cross the border, because the wage disparity is so great between Mexico and the United States.

That’s the conversation Harris should have sparked.

Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott — whose state boasts a strong economy due in large part to its reliance on immigrant labor — seems to think that his best shot at the 2024 Republican presidential nomination is to be tough on the border and anyone who crosses it.

Abbott fancies that GOP talking point about how Democrats are too generous, lenient and accommodating toward lawbreakers. So what does he do in response? He concocts a publicity stunt for dealing with immigrants that is — wait for it — generous, lenient and accommodating.

You have probably heard about how Abbott is busing thousands of migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border to Washington, D.C., and New York. But you may not have heard much about the tab that the governor is running up to pay for a voluntary transport program that relies on plush charter buses.

According to a recent analysis by the Texas Division of Emergency Management, the Lone Star State has spent about $13 million on Abbott’s attention grab. State agencies estimate that Texas has bused about 10,000 migrants to Washington and New York. Policy analysts say the state of Texas is spending about $1,300 per migrant on this stunt.

How do the migrants feel about being moved around the country like chess pawns?

By most accounts, many seem to appreciate the lift as they continue their quest for work. These are practical people. They get a free ride from the border to the Beltway or the Big Apple. From there, they can scoot to their destination — while Texas taxpayers foot the bill.

Abbott’s office insists that migrants get transported out of state only if they give written permission. For what it’s worth, there seems to be plenty of volunteers. So, in Texas, this is what passes for getting tough?

Immigration is a serious issue. We need serious people who deal with it in serious ways. And these days, the offerings from both parties are awfully skimpy.

Contact Ruben Navarrette Jr. at crimscribe@icloud.com. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.

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