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They point to shockingly high homicide rates as evidence of a social breakdown and say migrants also are fleeing to other Latin American nations, laying blame away from President Obama’s policies.

But Border Patrol agents say almost all the children tell them they have come to the U.S. to gain a foothold. The children aren’t trying to evade capture, but instead are hoping to be apprehended by Border Patrol agents.

Under U.S. policy, the government is required to try to match the children with family in the U.S., whether they are in the country legally or not — thus completing the smuggling circuit.

The El Salvador Embassy source said the migrants are being pushed north by higher crime in Central America, a lack of economic opportunities and increased sophistication of smugglers, who see children as a “niche market.”

“Nevertheless, we think that the main cause of this flow of migrants is the desire of families to reunite with their children. Since no legal option for reunification exists, families choose the risky option,” the source said.

Mr. Biden added the Guatemala stop to a previously scheduled trip through Latin America specifically to deliver a message to Central American leaders. He is expected to try to dispel rumors of legal status for newcomers.

The White House said Mr. Biden will say that those crossing the border now aren’t eligible for legal status under either Mr. Obama’s nondeportation policies or the Senate immigration bill pending in Congress.

But the administration cannot categorically rule out legal status because many of the children will be eligible for other protections, such as asylum or special visas for juveniles.

According to an internal U.S. Customs and Border Protection memo, the trip pays off for many of the children, even those subject to deportation. The process can take years and give them a chance to disappear into the shadows as illegal immigrants.

Mr. Biden’s former colleagues hoped he would deliver a stern message.

“He has a way of being blunt, and I would be disappointed in this case if he were not,” said Sen. Thomas R. Carper, who served alongside Mr. Biden in the Senate as a Delaware Democrat.

The Central American nations also have their wish lists.

Salvadoran President Sanchez Ceren will request another round of money — $270 million — from the Millennium Challenge Corp., a U.S. aid program.