The Mexican government on Thursday began issuing birth certificates to Mexican nationals living in the United States to help them obtain the identity documents needed to apply for driver's licenses and work permits.
In the past, Mexicans were able to get birth certificates only from government offices in Mexico, leaving immigrants in the U.S. to rely on friends or family members back home to obtain the documents for them.
Now, an official at one of 50 Mexican consulates across the U.S. will be able to access a digital archive of birth records from most parts of Mexico and print a copy of the certificate on the spot.
"It's huge," said Angelica Salas, the director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights Los Angeles, which advocates for immigrants in the country illegally. "If you don't have a birth certificate, nothing flows."
She said many of the roughly 6 million Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. illegally don't have the documents. Some left them behind for safe keeping while making the dangerous journey north, she said. Others come from rural communities far from government offices and may have never received a birth certificate.
A birth certificate is required to obtain a Mexican passport or consular ID card — forms of identification needed to apply for many U.S. government programs. Requests for birth certificates have been surging in recent months, Mexican officials say.
"This is one of the biggest demands from our community," said Carlos Sada, the consul general of Mexico in Los Angeles. There are nine other Mexican consulates in California, including offices in Santa Ana, San Bernardino and Oxnard.
Hundreds of thousands of Mexican immigrants who are in the country illegally are now eligible to apply for California driver's licenses under a law that went into effect this month. Nationally, millions more are eligible for a program recently expanded by President
On Wednesday, House Republicans voted to overturn Obama's new immigration policies, although it is unlikely that the bill will pass in the Senate.
Critics of Obama's policies have also taken aim at the Mexican government's decision to offer birth certificates to immigrants living here.
"We think it is strange that any country would welcome the fact that its citizens want to live elsewhere and, in fact, expedite the process for them," said Jo Wideman, director of Californians for Population Stabilization, which advocates stricter immigration enforcement.