Baltimore leaders need to encourage at least three times as many foreign-born people to move here if they hope to reverse the city's population decline, according to a new report that calls for improved job and housing opportunities for immigrants.
The report, by the Bethesda-based Morrison Public Affairs Group, advises that Baltimore must increase the net number of foreign-born residents it attracts by "three- to four-fold" from the average of 2,000 a year it drew during the 1990s, when the city lost nearly 85,000 people. Baltimore has far fewer immigrants than comparable cities that have gained population, the report says.
"Attracting New Americans Into Baltimore's Neighborhoods," funded by the nonprofit Abell Foundation, suggests the effort should be coordinated by the mayor's office, and include local employers and colleges as well as city agencies.
It calls for improved opportunities for immigrants who are here, and suggests an array of initiatives to attract new ones to Baltimore's foreign enclaves, ranging from encouraging universities to increase the numbers of foreign students enrolled to pushing the federal government to ease legalization of undocumented aliens.
"If you want to stabilize your population, you can't do it with native-born population. That just doesn't happen," Bruce A. Morrison, chairman of the research and consulting group, said in a recent interview.
Increasing the immigrant population in Baltimore "won't happen by itself," said Morrison, who represented Connecticut in the U.S. Congress from 1982 to 1990 and is a former chairman of the House immigration subcommittee.
"It requires some priming of various programs, or Baltimore will tend to lag, as it has been lagging," Morrison said.
Mayor Martin O'Malley said he agreed "for the most part" with the report's recommendations, especially the suggestion that the city create a "welcoming image" in part through "attentive public relations."
"We have to better publicize what we're doing," the mayor said.
Those actions include small-business conferences and a bilingual homebuying workshop sponsored by the city's Hispanic Liaison Office. The city also has a liaison to the Korean community.
Although such representatives can be useful in recognizing problems those groups might be having, they do not address the growing African population, and do not have the broad authority needed to recruit new arrivals and retain them, Morrison said.
"That's a piece of it. By itself, that's not enough," he said.
The Morrison group's 70-page report uses census and Immigration and Naturalization Service data to analyze immigration to Baltimore and several other cities.
It shows that 5.5 percent of the city's population is foreign-born, roughly half the national average, with about 60 percent of that number arriving in the past decade.
"Most cities like Baltimore have the same problem -- they have no significant immigrant influx," the report said.
As evidence of the importance of immigration in reversing population declines, the report notes several cities outside the Sunbelt where population gains in the past decade would not have occurred without substantial increases in the number of foreign-born residents.
They include Chicago and New York as well as several cities that, like Baltimore, have fewer than 1 million people. Among them are Boston, Minneapolis, Newark, N.J., and Oakland, Calif.
The latter group did not plan for its success in stemming population decline through immigration, the report says, but rather was the beneficiary of networking, with existing foreign-born residents attracting newcomers from their former countries.
Unlike those cities, however, Baltimore does not have a large concentration of recent immigrants from a single area, although that might be changing with increased numbers of Africans and Mexicans, the report says.
Nonetheless, many of those cities share certain characteristics that could be useful in helping Baltimore craft a strategy for increasing its number of foreign-born residents.
One is the presence of large numbers of foreign students who might become permanent residents, an area in which Baltimore "lags badly," according to the report.
"The colleges and universities in Baltimore, led by Johns Hopkins, will need to make the recruitment of foreign students a priority if this magnet is to be created," the report said.
Newark and Oakland, with their lower housing costs, appear to have attracted immigrants from New York and San Francisco, according to the report. "Baltimore has the potential to relate to the Washington, D.C., area in this way," the report said.
Increasing the number of refugees -- foreign-born victims of persecution whose resettlement is arranged and financed by the federal government -- is only part of the answer to reversing the city's population decline, according to the report.
Jews from the former Soviet Union constituted about 80 percent of the 5,830 refugees who were resettled in the city during the 1990s, but the flow from that group has dropped off significantly, the report said.
"Among refugees, a new core community is needed," the report said, adding, "West Africa may provide the best opportunity."
At the same time, the existing Jewish refugee community can serve as a "magnet" for immigrants and refugees from elsewhere in the United States as well as new immigrants from Russia and Ukraine, the report says.