This is the first in a four-part series by Capital News Service looking at immigrants in Maryland.

By Jessica Campisi

Capital News Service

Christina Getrich has lived in Maryland for most of her life and has witnessed the state’s changing demographics over time.

A large number of Salvadoran immigrants began settling in Montgomery County when she was younger, said Getrich, who lives in Silver Spring. Today, while Salvadorans are still the largest foreign-born population in the county, groups from countries such as India and Ethiopia also have sizable populations.

“We all get so much from the presence of those people,” said Getrich, a professor and anthropologist at the University of Maryland whose interests include immigration and citizenship. “Here, we just have such a range of different people from different places. We’re lucky in the D.C. area.”

America’s melting pot culture has seen an estimated 59 million immigrants over the past 50 years, according to the Pew Research Center, but this uptick in diversity took hundreds of years to take shape.

“There’s no doubt that immigrants have made America what it is today,” said Elizabeth Keyes, an assistant law professor and director of the Immigrants Rights Clinic at the University of Baltimore.

In 2013, 13% of the U.S. population — or more than 40 million people living in the U.S.  — were foreign-born, according to data from the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. And by 2055, no race or ethnicity will hold a majority, the data said.

Maryland cities rank top for diversity

Maryland’s foreign-born population has grown dramatically. Of the 10 most diverse cities in America, three are located in the state: Gaithersburg, Germantown and Frederick, according to a 2016 WalletHub study.

Immigrants favor Maryland for reasons such as its educational opportunities, said Jeanne Batalova, a senior analyst for the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

U.S. News and World Report reported in April that Maryland high schools ranked the best in the nation for the third year in a row.

Once an ethnic community settles in a particular area, other members of that group tend to come to the same place later on, fueling a larger population of that demographic and contributing to greater migration in Maryland, Getrich added.

“Communities establish themselves, and then it’s a self-generating process,” Getrich said. “Throughout the area, we see the settlement of particular groups and areas in interesting ways.”

Among metropolitan areas with more than 1 million residents, the Washington region ranked eighth in foreign-born residents, with about 22% of residents from other nations. Twenty-seven percent of people in the national capital region over age 5 spoke a language other than English at home, according to a report released by the U.S. Census Bureau as part of its 2011 American Community Survey.

While 28% of the nation’s legal immigrants come from Latin America, El Salvador is the most popular country of origin for legal immigrants in Maryland. Salvadorans — who make up 24% of Hispanics in Maryland — represent the largest part of the state’s Hispanic community, followed by Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, according to the Department of Legislative Services.

Foreign-born add to economy

Immigrants and migrants have shaped multiple aspects of life in Maryland, such as the economy, education, medicine and politics. Historically, many of America’s immigrants were blue-collar workers, but today’s migrants in Maryland include workers of all skill levels, ranging from service workers to doctors, Keyes said.

Occupations such as painting, construction and maintenance have the highest share of foreign-born workers in Maryland, with 63% of workers born outside the U.S., according to New American Economy, which aims to support changes to immigration policy, including securing the nation’s borders and increasing enforcement to prevent illegal immigration, and create American jobs.

Specifically, Hispanic immigrants in Maryland — who live mostly in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties — paid $1.6 billion in taxes, and the state’s median household income for Hispanics is the highest in the nation, the DLS reported.

Sixty-two percent of the state’s maids and household workers, and 55% of medical and life scientists in Maryland, are foreign-born, according to NAE.

Worried for the future

But with President Donald Trump’s administration, Getrich said she is “very worried” about the future of migrant communities in the United States and how they may be affected by national policies.

“We know that migration is a phenomenon that is present in our world, so to me, what would be better is investing in immigrant communities and families and children to go onto make even more contributions to society,” she said.

“I grew up thinking that a strength of the United States was the way in which we welcome people from different cultures,” said Julie Greene, a history professor at the University of Maryland and a historian of subjects including U.S. labor and immigration. “It’s very hard to imagine this country without the incredible role played by immigrants.”