What the situation at the US southern border is like now

As the government shutdown reaches day 21, "Nightline" goes to the border to see what President Trump describes as an immigration "crisis."
7:58 | 01/11/19

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Transcript for What the situation at the US southern border is like now
Reporter: Far from Washington, this is the front line for border security. Right now we're headed to zone nine. Reporter: We're with customs and border protection in the Rio grande sector in southeastern Texas. Drag the area to see if there's any footprints. Reporter: We're with Raul Ortiz, and it took just seconds for us to see why he called this place the busiest spot along the nearly 2,000-long u.s./mexico border. See it? Reporter: Yeah. You got a raft coming over right now. It looks like a tiny raft, it's leaking. A terrible paddle. This group arriving with their hands in the air. And moments later another group. It looks like a mother with two kids. Three kids. And the agents are trying to actually help them up this incredibly steep bank. So they don't get hurt on the way up. These are the types of people who are not trying really hard to evade border patrol. In many cases they're trying to find them to surrender to border patrol. They see about 600 total illegal crossings in this area every day. Overwhelming U.S. Agencies. Ortiz led this group to the main road and they followed along behind him willingly. They just walk right up. And it is here where they'll begin the next phase of their journey, practically empty handed. Is that because of the smugglers? The smugglers will let them take everything from them, if they have a cell phone. They'll let them keep the cell phone and that's it. Reporter: They're asked to take off their shoelaces and any other remaining property. This mother and her daughter crystal trek 1500 miles from Honduras. That Barbie came with little crystal. Her mother tells us she's 22 and brought her daughter here for a better education. Since 2006, the number of people crossing the southeastern border illegally has been dramatically declining with a slight uptick in the last year. In the past, migrants have come from Mexico. But in recent years, the migrants have been coming primarily from Central America. And because those countries are so violent, the border patrol is legally bound to register their asylum requests. We cannot Al how people to take advantage of the system and get into the shadows. That is a legitimate policy that needs to be reformed so people who have legitimate claims can be processed in a timely manner. Reporter: They are released into the U.S. With a notice to reappear. Is that catch and release? If there is space for a mother and child at a residential center, we'll make that call first. But if there's not a detention space they will put an ankle bracelet or some sort of monitoring device. They will ultimately be released. Reporter: To better protect the borders, Ortiz wants more agents, more technology and a barrier. And today got the chance to make his case to the president himself. This zone is the busiest zone in the country. Reporter: President trump escaping stalled shutdown talks in Washington to visit McAllen, Texas. . They need a barrier, they need a wall. If you don't have it, it's going to be nothing but hard work and problems, and death, a lot of death. Reporter: But we got a different story from the mayor of McAllen, Jim darling. One of the things the president mentioned is there's a security crisis here. What is the murder rate in McAllen. Zero. Reporter: Zero. We're the safest city in the state of Texas. Reporter: The mayor doesn't want a wall here. But the president steadfast in his mission saying he would declare a national emergency if negotiations falter so he could go around congress and use the military to build his wall. We can declare a national emergency. We shouldn't have to. Because this is common sense. Reporter: In Washington, nancesy Pelosi saying even Republicans don't like this idea. He's going to have to answer to his own party with that kind of power. I think he likes the distraction from his other problems. Reporter: And members of his own party growing weary of the shutdown. I think it's important that we do our business around here. And we did our business with these six appropriations bills. So let's get them done. Reporter: Senator Collins tweeting in part, we must bring this impasse to an end. The president long claimed the taxpayers would not have to pay for the wall. Who's going to pay for the wall? Mexico! Reporter: He spelled out a plan for making a one-time payment of $5 billion to $10 billion. Now a different story. Do you think they're going to write a check for $5 billion or $10 billion? Or 2 cents? No, they're paying through the trade deal. Nothing in that that has money from the Mexicans actually going into the treasury to reimburse taxpayers. Reporter: He says he won't reopen the government until he gets it. Another central theme outlined as he prepared to leave Washington today. We don't want drugs pouring in. Most of our drugs come from the southern border. And they don't come in from the portal, they come in between the portal where you have no barrier. Reporter: But most of those illegal drugs are not smuggled through gaps. Most often they're smuggled through the ports of entry hem themselves. They'll use campers and cars and trucks and hide in secret compartments. Reporter: The trial of el Chapo, stunning testimony revealing how his cartel used cars, trucks and trunks to get drugs into the U.S. A wall is not necessarily going to stop a drug dealer like El Chapo. They have multiple ways they bring these drugs in, en masse. And the wall is not going to be the panacea to solve all of that. There are places where a wall or fencing would be helpful. But the idea that a border wall stretching from the pacific to the gulf of Mexico would stop all drugs from coming into the country or illegal immigration is simply a mits. Reporter: It's now just shy of the 21st day of the government shutdown. No deal in psychiatrist. The trail's worn out. Reporter: Here on the ground, these border agents, among the 800,000 employees who won't see a paycheck tomorrow. For Ortiz and his clients, this day ends like so many others. A long journey, emotional days and more coming. Matt Gutman, Texas. Next, lady gaga's mea culpa,

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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