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Mexico has ordered its consulates to issue birth certificates to its citizens living illegally in the United States.
The move follows President Barack Obama’s executive action granting temporary reprieve from deportation to several million undocumented Mexicans.
Mexican officials say they wants to help undocumented migrants apply for a variety of programs, including immigration applications, triggered by Obama’s decision. And those programs require identification, starting with a birth certificate.
But some analysts contend there’s another motive for the policy change, and that’s maintaining a steady and reliable flow of remittances that represent a major driver of the Mexican economy.
Ten states from California to Vermont now offer driver’s licenses to undocumented residents. Mexico’s decision to issue birth certificates makes it easier to apply for people like Herlina Lujan to apply for driver’s licenses and protection from immediate deportation.
“I’m glad that Obama is helping Mexicans and that my own government is also doing so,” she said while holding her newly-issued birth certificate. Lujan is a charming 60-year-old from Chihuahua who has been here for decades.
She works two jobs in the border town of Presidio, Texas.
“We can’t take advantage of Obama’s executive action without documents,” Lujan said.
At least some of the estimated 5 million immigrants without papers to be spared from immediate deportation are expected to get work permits. But the eligible immigrants won’t receive federal benefits, including health care tax credits.
Mexican Consul Sergio Salinas Mesa said the process of getting a birth certificate for Mexicans in the U.S. has been cumbersome to say the least.
“In the past, the Mexicans who require the birth certificates need to travel to Mexico to get one. [It] was a very hard time for them because some of the cannot move and travel to Mexico right now,” he said.
Salinas said Mexicans in the U.S. without status still need a passport if they hope to live here legally. And he said, like any other country, Mexicans can’t get a passport without a birth certificate.
“[Undocumented migrants] have been in the the shadows and [with] this announcement by President Barack Obama, there is a way to step up and say, ‘Hey I am here! And I have a birth certificate and I am trying to make everything, my immigration status, the correct way,’” he said.
But there’s an equally compelling reason for Mexico’s policy shift that will help Mexicans here, said Jessica Vaughan at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. The Center advocates for limited immigration.
”They’re going to be better off and better able to send money home to Mexico,” she said.
Vaughan said in 2013, Mexico earned more than $20 billion in remittances, the money that Mexicans working in the U.S. send home.
That’s more than Mexico earned in foreign exchange through tourism. Vaughan says state governments in Mexico use the tax money earned from those remittances in what she likens to “an economic stimulus program.”
“The governments there will use these remittances to help fund infrastructure programs in Mexico. So they figure it’s in their interest to help their citizens gather the documents they need to apply for these programs so that they’ll be able to work legally in the United States,” Vaughan said.
Salinas said the economic injection that remittances represent is a secondary consideration.
“It’s not only the economic benefit for Mexico,” he said. “I mean, these people still are working in the United States, working in the fields. And sometimes, it’s like nobody sees them.”
The previous week, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to overturn Obama’s executive action as part of a bill to fund Homeland Security. It’s unlikely that legislation will pass in the Senate.
But if it does, the president says he will veto it.