By Candia Dames
WASHINGTON – Foreign-born residents made up an estimated 9 percent of Maryland’s population in 2000, up from 6.6 percent a decade earlier, according to figures to be released by the Census Bureau Thursday.
The increasing numbers of foreign-born residents is reflected in the growing need for translators in the state’s health and education departments, among others, and in the rising number of English as a Second Language classes offered in state schools.
But officials say the rise does not necessarily mean Maryland is overburdened.
“I don’t know if it is a burden,” said Linda Bazerjian, spokeswoman for Maryland Department of Education. “It’s just a change. Times are changing.”
The Census report, “Profile of the Foreign-Born Population in the United States: 2000,” also said that the “foreign stock” — foreign-born or first- generation Marylanders — in the Baltimore-Washington region rose to one in five people by 2000.
The figures, which came from the March 2000 Current Population Survey and not the 2000 Census, show that 1.5 million people in the Baltimore-Washington area were either foreign-born or have a parent who was. The report did not calculate foreign stock for the entire state.
Dianne Schmidley, author of the report, said Maryland mirrors the nation in the ratio of its foreign-born population and first-generation residents to its native population.
“It’s a mixed bag,” she said. “There is definitely a lot of diversity in the state.”
Schmidley said detailed Census numbers, which will be released later this year, could show Maryland’s foreign-born population to be as high as 11 percent or as low as 8 percent.
Their impact can be seen in schools, where the number of students listed as having limited English skills more than doubled, from just over 8,000 students in 1989 to almost 18,000 in 1999. Spanish-speaking students made up about one-half of that group, up from one-third 10 years earlier.
The language barrier faced by many foreign-born residents is also evident in the state’s health care services, said Dr. Carol Garvey, Montgomery County health officer. The county’s communicable disease clinics have translators for 14 different languages available to accommodate a burgeoning immigrant population.
Garvey, who guessed that one in four county residents is foreign-born or has a foreign-born parent, said the county’s health care resources are strained by the growth.
“One of the real tensions is that we have to meet these health care needs with local dollars. We need more federal dollars,” she said.
Many come from countries that don’t speak English and some come from countries that have more user-friendly health care systems that are easier to navigate, Garvey said.
She also said many illegal aliens in Maryland are going without vital health care because they fear they might be turned over to immigration officials.
Mary Wendeln, a social services coordinator of the Latino advocacy group CASA de Maryland, said there are many services that foreign-born residents cannot access because they work longer hours than natives.
Wendeln believes the benefits immigrants bring to the state’s economy are often overlooked.
“They make a tremendous amount of contributions in the service industry,” she said. “Most of them are doing jobs that many other people won’t do and because they don’t have any money to save, they put most of their money back into the economy.”
Thursday’s report says Maryland is one of 17 states with a foreign-born population of more than 5 percent.
Schmidley said Maryland is a major destination for people from the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, but additional groups may be popping up. She said she expects that more detailed Census numbers later this year will show high numbers of Eastern Europeans who came to the area after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Yelena Sokolov, a social worker at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, migrated from the Ukraine in 1990. She said Russian-speaking Jews who came to Maryland after the fall of the wall are highly sophisticated professionals. Their numbers are so significant today, she said, that a new group was formed to raise money to outfit area-libraries with Russian books.
“Some people come with green cards and because they were invited here to work,” she said. “They take care of themselves.”