Immigration Report: Maryland Melting Pot Is Thoroughly Stirred

As a community outreach manager for the Montgomery County, Md., Department of Health and Human Services, Joe Heiney-Gonzalez serves an area where 45 percent of the residents are foreign-born and speak more than 100 different languages.

"It's a fast-growing international community here," he said of the county.

And Montgomery County is not alone: According to a report released Friday by the Center for Immigration Studies (search), Maryland had the most diverse immigrant population in the nation in 2000.

Immigrants from South America, Asia, Europe and Africa chose Maryland as their new home, said the report, but no one group made up more than 24 percent of the state's overall foreign-born population, said report co-author Steven Camarota.

Nationally, by contrast, the trend is to have people from one country dominate the immigrant population, Camarota said. The report was based on data from the 2000 Census.

While the 37,980 Salvadorans in Maryland make them the most-populous transplant group in the state, they only account for 7 percent of the total immigrant population. In Arizona, for instance, people from Mexico account for 67 percent of the total immigrant population.

Maryland's ethnic diversity can be attributed to its proximity to Washington, D.C., Camarota said.

"D.C. is an unusual place that attracts not just foreign diplomatic staff, it also has international corporations and international organizations," he said.

Chinese make up the second-biggest group in Maryland, with 34,166 residents, followed by 31,254 from Korea and 28,088 from India. Other countries with large immigrant communities here include Germany, Nigeria and Iran, the report said.

Social services agencies are adapting to the state's booming foreign-born communities, but "there's always going to be a need for more," said Mark Borum, acting field office director from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (search) in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

Currently, the need and demand is greatest among the Spanish- and Korean-speaking communities, Borum said.

"We're definitely seeing more diversity," said Steve Trageser, assistant director for the Maryland office of Women, Infants and Children (search), a federally funded food program.

Trageser said most of his group's outreach is aimed at people who speak Spanish, Russian, Korean and Vietnamese.

With a multiplicity of languages, dialects and cultures, Heiney-Gonzalez said his agency still needs to improve its outreach.

"Within our current staffing and budget constraints we're doing all we can because of the diverse demographics," Heiney-Gonzalez said. "The bottom line is to increase availability."