Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda will be in Washington Thursday for talks with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. The two are expected to focus most of their attention on the issue of providing legal status to undocumented Mexican workers in the United States, a proposal that was sidetracked by the terrorist attacks of September 11. The Mexican official in charge of outreach to migrants north of the border remains optimistic that an agreement can be reached this year.

The man President Vicente Fox chose to head his Office for Mexicans Abroad, Juan Hernandez, sees no reason why the terrorist threat should disrupt the move for an immigration accord. He says such an agreement could even help the United States deal with the problem by providing legal documentation for the millions of people who now reside in the shadows.

He says the process that began when President Fox came to Washington in September, the week just before the terrorist attacks, is still alive and well. "I think we have a momentum that is not going to slow," he said. "On the contrary, I think the relationship between the United States and Mexico every day is stronger. The relationship between George W. Bush and Vicente Fox is strong and the relationship that Mexicans and Mexican-Americans that live in the United States have [with Mexico.] There are 23 million individuals who live in the United States. I think this momentum, nobody is going to stop it."

In spite of public opinion polls in the United States showing little support for an amnesty or even a temporary immigrant worker program, Mr. Hernandez remains confident that progress will be made this year. He bases his optimism in tangible changes in laws and policies all over the United States in recent months. "There are several laws that were changed at the grass-roots level, at the state level, in the United States that are very positive for the United States and positive for Mexico," said Juan Hernandez. "The state of Texas, for example, passed the migrant education law. It is the first state in the United States that passed a law so that everyone who graduates from high school can go to the university and pay in-state tuition."

Mr. Hernandez says there are now eight states allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver's license. He also notes that some U.S. banks are allowing immigrants without social security numbers to open accounts and transfer funds back to family members in Mexico.

Some of these very same developments have drawn fire from U.S. critics of current immigration policy. Critics, for example, question why an illegal immigrant in Texas should be allowed to pay in-state tuition for college, while a U.S. citizen from a nearby state must pay more. But Juan Hernandez says he remains confident that most Americans will see the long-term benefit of giving immigrants more opportunities.