City seeking immigrants to bolster population

January 08, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

In a city that immigrants once flocked to and now largely bypass, officials have hired someone to put out the welcome mat for foreigners.

Baltimore's new immigrant support and outreach coordinator has the task of promoting immigration to the city and improving outreach to foreign-born people already here.

The effort is intended to bring more vitality and people to the city, which has been trying to reverse decades of declining population. Just 5.5 percent of Baltimore's population is foreign-born, about half the national average.

"Cities whose populations have been growing and whose economies have been growing have also been cities that have been attractive to immigrants," said Mayor Martin O'Malley. "Having a dynamic and vibrant immigrant population is one of the markers of a healthy and growing city."

By creating ethnic enclaves and setting up businesses that serve recent arrivals, new immigrants help revive older neighborhoods and add diversity to the community, said Elizabeth "Beery" Adams, who started on the $40,000-a-year job last week.

"These are people who help shore up the U.S. economy and they add to the cultural mosaic of the country," she said.

Adams, 24, said she is fluent in Spanish and recently completed a master's degree in Latin American studies at the University of Arizona.

Her position falls under the Mayor's Office of Community Investment, but her salary comes from grant money from several sources. The Board of Estimates approved one of the grants, a $25,000 award from the Open Society Institute, at a meeting yesterday.

The idea for the post stemmed from a November 2002 report, funded by the nonprofit Abell Foundation, which has pledged $60,000 to help fund the position over several years. The report found that to stem the city's population loss, immigration had to increase three to four times. Baltimore drew about 2,000 immigrants a year in the 1990s, a decade in which it lost nearly 85,000 residents.

Also in response to the report, the city set up a working group, made up of people who work with immigrants, to discuss how to best serve their needs. Adams will be meeting with the group.

One of the main strategies for attracting immigrants will be to make sure those already here feel good about the city, said David Costello, who heads the community investment office.

"It's not rocket science. The way to encourage immigration is to support existing immigrants," he said. "People move when they understand a community is welcoming."

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