WASHINGTON – The number of foreign-born Maryland residents grew by as many as 249,000 people between 2000 and 2004, according to one estimate, an influx of immigrants that is forcing local governments to respond.
“Most of the population growth in Maryland is from immigration,” said Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies. “The foreign-born (population) is going to continually grow.”
The Census Bureau reported Tuesday that there were 34.2 million foreign-born residents in the country in 2004, about 773,000, or 2.3 percent, more than the year before. From 2000 to 2004, the country’s foreign-born population grew by 20 percent, the bureau said, adding 5.8 million immigrants who now make up 12 percent of the U.S. population.
The bureau will not have state-by-state estimates available for another six months.
But Camarota, who bases his estimates on Census figures, said the immigrant population in Maryland is growing even faster than the national rate. He believes that the immigrant population grew by more than half in the last four years, now totaling 728,000 people who make up 13.3 percent of the state’s overall population.
That number would be “surprisingly high for 2004,” said Jack Martin, special projects director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, who questioned Camarota’s numbers. But Martin and others agree that, whatever the number, the state’s immigrant population is growing rapidly.
For Montgomery County, where half the state’s foreign-born population lives, the growth of immigrants means the county’s health and social services are conducted in various languages — especially Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, French and Farsi.
Immigration is “significant in how services are being delivered to the county to meet the needs of the residents,” said Shu-Ping Chan, community outreach coordinator in the Montgomery County Executive’s Office.
“The biggest concern is the (immigrants’) lack of familiarity with the system” and cultural and language barriers, said Chan, who noted that more and more county jobs either have a preference or requirement for someone who speaks another language.
But Martin said that the surge in immigrants — which include legal as well as illegal immigrants — will have “a very negative fiscal effect” on taxpayers because of the newcomers’ dependence on emergency health care among other public services.
An economist at Towson University countered by saying that immigrants are not just using social services without giving back to society — they also benefit the state’s economy by taking jobs that native-born workers do not want.
Immigrants taking low-wage jobs, such as janitorial work, hospitality services and crab-picking, are keeping costs low for customers and helping companies retain a competitive edge, said John Hopkins at RESI, the consulting arm of Towson University.
The exact number of immigrants is almost impossible to pin down. The latest national numbers were drawn from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. Unlike the decennial census, which tries to count every person in the country, the Current Population Survey samples 78,000 households nationwide.
Such surveys are not intended to capture state data, said Robert Bernstein, a Census spokesman. The March 2004 Current Population Survey — on which Camarota’s estimates are based — interviewed just 1,239 households in Maryland. In March 2000, roughly half that number of households in Maryland were interviewed, said Tom Moore, chief of demographic health surveys at the Census.
Mark Goldstein, an economist at the Maryland Department of Planning, said the relatively small sample size of the Current Population Survey can give “very large margins of error.” Because of that, he would not estimate how rapidly the foreign-born population is increasing. But he agreed that the “immigrant population is growing in the state.”
Martin Ford, the associate director for the Maryland Office for New Americans, said that while those newcomers force schools to increase language instruction programs, such as English as a Second Language, for example, they also bring the promise of future rewards.
“In the short term, the costs relative to tax payments may be greater but in the long term, immigrants contribute to our economy more than they take out,” such as subsidizing Social Security, Ford said. “People look at it as a burden, but I look at it as an investment.”
Marvin Weinman, president of Montgomery County Taxpayers League, said immigrants deserve support from the county.
“They are residents of the county and are entitled to the services of the county,” Weinman said.
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