The Mexican government will issue birth certificates to its citizens at consulates in the United States to make it easier for them to apply for a U.S. work permit, driver's license and protection from deportation.

Previously, Mexico required citizens to get birth certificates at government offices in Mexico. Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. can ask friends and relatives back home to retrieve them, but it delays their applications for immigration or other programs.

Mexico is trying to help millions of immigrants living illegally in the U.S. apply for programs that would allow them to remain temporarily in the country and continue sending money to relatives across the border, despite Republicans in Congress trying to quash President Obama's immigration reform plan.

"It is a huge help. It helps individuals really begin to formulate their formal identity in this country," said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

About half of the 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally are from Mexico, and immigration experts estimate that roughly 3 million Mexicans could be eligible to apply for work permits and protection from deportation under the administration's plan.

About two weeks ago, California — which is home to more Mexicans than any other state — began issuing driver's licenses to immigrants in the country illegally

Starting Thursday, the country's 50 consulates in the United States will be able to access data in Mexico and print birth certificates at the consulates.

Consulates should be able to issue birth certificates for nearly all birthplaces in Mexico, aside from rural communities, Arturo Sanchez, consult for press and commerical affairs in Santa Ana, California, said.

Over the past year, the Santa Ana consulate has seen a surge in the demand for documents. Daily appointments have jumped by a third to nearly 400, with many people trying to get birth certificates, Sanchez said.

Mexican immigrants usually seek birth certificates to obtain a passport or consular identification card so they can then apply for a driver's license or immigration relief, he said.

In California, Mexican consular officials have supported the rollout of the new driver's license program, holding information sessions and offering test preparation classes to help immigrants pass the written test required to get a license.

Mexican migrant workers, many who live in the United States, sent home $21.6 billion to their families in 2013, according to the country's central bank.

The Associated Press contributed to this report